Report on visit to Broadland District Council by Sub-committee in respect of proposed developments

Paul Killingback, Alison Shaw and Jane Morgan attended a meeting with Phil Courtier, Chief Planning Officer at Broadland District Council (BDC), on 8 October 2012 to discuss material planning considerations.

This was in respect of the proposed wind turbine. However in view of other potential ‘Green Energy’ applications that have been proposed, some discussion inevitably took place on these as well.

Phil was clear about the central govt. directive to all planning authorities nationally that they should “presume to approve” all renewable energy projects unless there was reasonable proof that there was “significant adverse impact” to the local environment or community. The exercise in determining these particular planning applications, he said, was an exercise of weighing in the balance on the one hand the govt.’s renewable energy targets and on the other any significant adverse impacts to the locality. He stressed that, as a planning officer, he had to be able to provide ‘reasonable proof’ of such impacts.

  1. Phil Courtier firstly confirmed that BDC had received a planning application that very morning for the Solar Farm from Pike Partnership for Jim Agnew. Currently being processed and formal notification will be sent out to the Parish Council shortly.
  1. Considering in more detail the Solar Farm application, photographs of surrounding area were studied. Discussion on the fact that the landscape character designation of this part of the parish is High Landscape Value; change of use of land; visual impact; and ecology. Phil stated that the visual impact on members of the public using the public footpath across the field immediately to the south of the site would be a material consideration. Also, of course, any visibility from neighbouring properties. Phil described this part of the parish (in contradistinction to the airfield) as “a settled, historic rural landscape that has probably not been compromised for 200 years…”  Hedgerows were important.  Change of use of land was probably “an irrelevance” from a planning point of view.  The ecology of the site was “probably worth looking into”.

General point on landscape character designations:  the whole parish is designated as  “High Landscape Value” with the exception of the airfield which is “Moderate Landscape Value”.   The “High” designation is not as strong as, for example, “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”  but it is significant and does carry weight. In addition, the area of the parish immediately to the east of The Street, and including all dwellings on The Street, is in the Blickling Conservation Area.

3.   In respect of a potential Anaerobic Digester application, Phil gave out copies of the planning permission and details of the planning conditions for the two sites at Felthorpe and Taverham. This information will be useful in helping the Parish Council and residents to understand the potential issues with any such development. Areas to consider will be noise, smell and traffic; traffic will further subdivide into amount of, routes to be followed,  and times of year, day and night.

4.    Potential Wind Turbine application. Phil confirmed that photomontages are generally used by developers – examples from Weston Longville application were shown. Expensive to produce but reasonably well defined. He said that most developers resist the use of blimps! Phil volunteered that Guestwick (6 turbines – application 20041819) used one to good effect.

5.    BDC specify photomontage sites to developers in these cases. [Note:- need to check with Matthew Rooke if all those sites previously suggested by Oulton PC have been agreed] 

i – From the high point of the road up from Itteringham just before it

meets the Blickling-Saxthorpe road. At this point the airfield is fully

exposed and the turkey sheds are visible.

ii – From outside the porch of Blickling Church, on the path, looking

towards Oulton. This is a much higher viewpoint  than the applicant’s

preferred view at the gates to Blickling Hall.

iii – From the upper windows of Blickling Hall.

iv – From the garden of the Old Railway Gatehouse,  immediately South of

the turbine

v – From the entrance gates to BM turkey farm

vi – From the garden of  116 The Street  (Mr S. Hagon)

vii – From the  bedroom window of 1, Hodges Row, The Street  (Mr J.

Pearce)

viii – From the field gateway opposite Morgan’s House, The Street

ix – From the garden, kitchen and south bedroom windows of Malthouse Farm

(Grade II listed)

x – From the hardstanding opposite the playground, at road junction,

North of The Street

xi – From the lane outside Manor Farm, Shepherd’s Lane

xii – From the ‘mound’ behind the wall in Oulton churchyard

xiii – From the bedroom windows of Oulton Lodge, Blickling Road (now Grade

II listed).

6.   Noise. Generally noise was unlikely to cause refusal – especially with a single turbine application of this size. It was felt that the newer gearless turbines of this size were not very noisy. The steady “whooshing” was referred to  – Phil responded that this might be regarded as an “irritant” by some people,  but was not regarded by planners as a ‘significant enough’ adverse impact.  Low frequency noise was mentioned.  Phil responded that there was “no firm written evidence” of this phenomenon – and evidence was what he had to have.  He said that the only real evidence for noise disturbance currently available to him was related to cumulative effects created under certain weather conditions by lines of turbines affecting each other.

7.   View. Phil stressed the need to demonstrate clearly the difference between  simply being able to see a turbine and  it having an adverse impact on the surroundings. It had to be a “very significant part” of the view.  He referred several times to landscape concepts eg  “Would it be an alien or incongruous feature in an otherwise horizontal landscape?” and he noted that, as far as he was aware, there were no other “vertical, man-made structures” of anything like a similar height in the vicinity.  Apparently, at Weston Longville, there is already a line of pylons marching through the landscape.

8.   Ecology. Phil was not inclined to think that adverse impact on the ecology of the vicinity would be given much weight.  He described the airfield as “industrial-scale agriculture where biodiversity has already been severely compromised”.

9.   Possible adverse visual impacts of continuous blade movements and night-lights were mentioned.

10.   Phil suggested that it is the immediate residential area that will be most affected by the turbine (i.e. The Street) and this is where clear evidence of any impact needs to be established. He stated that there were a significant number of dwellings that would be directly affected (20+)  –  more than was the case at Weston Longville (12). Distance from turbine dilutes impact. Conservation Area status of The Street is very important, and the fact that the turbine would be clearly visible from these dwellings  –   less so the very minimal impact there might be from Blickling Hall. Bedroom window views would be noted; kitchen, living room, sitting room views are given special weight (because used in daylight hours).  Also the immediate visual impact when walking out of one’s house and down the street. He suggested that the historic setting of Malthouse Farm (Grade II listed) had already been eroded by the airfield development. It was pointed out that the immediate purview of the farmhouse to the south (also direction of turbine) was still formed by the original ‘Home Meadow’ of the farm, still used as permanent pasture for a suckling herd.  Phil then suggested that another photomontage should be made showing the view from the south elevation of the house, including the turbine, as the current Malthouse Farm photomontage was not conclusive.

11.   The phrase constantly to bear in mind from a planning perspective is:  “Does it have a significant, adverse impact on its surroundings”? Phil returned to this phrase again and again.  All 3 words were important:  significant, adverse and impact.

Paul Killingback

Chair of Sub Committee

9 October 2012

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