Earlier this week, Lancaster City Council's Planning Committee discussed and rejected plans to install two wind turbines on Lancaster University property.
The plans, which raised several objections, propose the installation of two 2.3MW wind turbine generators, each with a maximum tip height of 101m on the University’s Hazelrigg site to the east of the M6 motorway, but the committee voted 14-3 against the plans.
While the court is out on wind farms - especially this plan, which Council officers pointed out are 'constrained' by various factors such as how close they might be built to local homes - the objection to the proposal from planning officers making recommendations to the planning committee has left some confused.
In documents to the committee, Chief Planning Officer Andrew Dobson argued that planning permission for the turbines should be refused because "the proposed development, by reason of its scale, design, close proximity and visual impact, would exert a significant harmful influence on the living conditions cmrently enjoyed by neighbouring residents and as a consequence is contrary to PPS22 and saved polices E4 and E22 of the Lancaster District Local Plan."
The decision has puzzled some supporters of the proposal, who point to what seems to be an inconsistency to the planning office's reasons for objecting to developments in our area - specifically, that officers seem to either support or object to proposals on environmental and economic grounds, but not always both; and that they also appear to pick and choose which elements of Local Plan policies should be supported.
Supporters of the wind turbines argue the turbines will reduce greenhouse gases by a significant amount and of course save the University money in terms of power generation, perhaps supplying on third of its power if built - perhaps even generating money themselves as power could be sold back to the National Grid during vacations when demand on campus would be lower.
But that economic argument appears to have been ignored - and yet on other projects, such as the planned M6 Link, Planning Office evidence submitted to the Planning Inquiry appears to argue the case for the road solely on economic, not environmental grounds.
Bypass Good, Turbines Bad?
In Andrew Dobson's Proof of Evidence to the Inquiry in 2007 (PDF), any impact on the environment and the lives of Torrisholme residents seems to have been ignored. While he argues the link would have a positive social effect by improving road safety and health in the district, which would lead to enhanced air quality within the urban areas and an expanded walking and cycling network, there is no reference to how unsightly the road might look if built.
The building of the road also runs counter to local plan Policy E2 that, within the North Lancashire green belt, the erection of new buildings will not be permitted except for agricultural or forestry purposes; essential facilities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation, for cemeteries and for other uses of land which preserve the openness of the green belt and which do not conflict with the purposes of including land in it; or the limited extension, alteration or replacement of existing dwellings.
No scope there for giant road building at all, you would have thought.
Nowhere in their Proof to the Inquiry did the planning office suggest that there would be any negative environmental impacts of building the link. Their arguments focussed almost entirely on what was seen as the overwhelming economic benefits of the road: but the economic benefits of the proposed turbines weren't measured up against the environmental disbenefits.
This seems to be a clear and habitual inconsistency that has been noted by several people, even before this week's planning committee voted against the University's wind turbine plan.
Although in his evidence on the Bypass Mr Dobson tasked himself with analysing the compliance of the road with planning policy, he made no analysis of the impact on the protected greenbelt. So why does the Council's case for the road omit any mention of the environmental impact?
"The wind turbines would have reduced the area's carbon contributions, which there's now legislation that aims to ensure," notes one virtual-lancaster reader. "The bypass will add 23,000 tonnes per anumn.
"It seems the Council has this turbines-bad, Bypass good attitude. The bypass will trash the lives of several hundred people in Torrisholme and is the biggest visual insult we have seen for many years.
"I am not making out a case for the turbines in this," they add, but describe the Council's contradiction in approach to both schemes as "carbon criminal".
Concerns addressed, says Council
While there is little that could be construed as comment on environmental concerns in Mr Dobson's Proof of Evidence, the Council says it has acknowledged the environmental impacts of the road and feels a variety of witnesses put forward by Lancashire County Council's team addressed those issues at the planning inquiry .
"Mr Dobson was only asked to address the issues of strategic and economic need which comprises the balancing arguments to be judged against the acknowledged environmental ones," the Council told virtual-lancaster. "That's normal when a range of witnesses are used. The Secretary of State’s report clearly undertakes that balance."
As for the planning application for the installation of wind turbines at Lancaster University, "the committee report clearly shows that, overall, economic need almost out balanced environmental issues," the Council argues.
"The reasons for refusal were, however, based on recent case law established by Planning Inspectors in three appeals, which we must have due regards to. The report clearly demonstrates that our conclusions were reluctant and that we were obliged to come to that conclusion by the precedent of the recent appeal decisions.
"On the issue of consistency, the law requires all cases to be judged on their merits. Balancing environmental impacts with economic benefits occurs regularly in many planning decisions nationally and there is no consistent pattern of outcomes as the factors in each case vary. Planning is not a mathematical exercise.
"What the the Planning Service does is consistently apply the material considerations required in law and balances them in individual cases. It is simply unjust to apply criticisms of inconsistency without looking with a fair and open mind at the facts."
• For more information on the Wind Turbine Project go to: www.lancs.ac.uk/windturbines