The Irish Georgian Society welcomes proposals to review the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 in relation to some of the key issues of public concern: noise, proximity and shadow flicker. However, the Society wishes to raise the following concerns:
· The establishment of a minimum separation distances can result in over-reliance on complying with prescriptive standards, thereby diluting the importance of case-by-case analysis of the likely impacts of a proposal. Case-by-case analysis of the likely impacts of development is critical to ensuring compliance with EU legislation on environmental impact assessment. Therefore, the language setting out any minimum separation distances should reflect that the appropriate separation distance shall be determined, in the first instance, by analysis, but shall be not less than 500 m.
· The Society queries the appropriateness of the proposed 500 m minimum separation distance. Ireland’s landscape is not homogenous or uniform, but is extremely varied in character. In some circumstances, having regard to topography and landscape character, a 500 m minimum separation distance suggested by the Proposed Revisions to the Wind Energy Guidelines 2006 will be more than adequate to protect some properties from impacts occurring in proximity to wind energy development. In other circumstances (e.g., where there is open countryside, where there are designed or historic landscapes, where there are views and prospects of significance or heritage significance), a 500 m separation distance will be grossly inadequate.
· The meaning of the term ‘curtilage’, which is used in but not defined in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, has been the subject of considerable confusion, debate and legal challenge. The definition set out by the Proposed Revisions to the Wind Energy Guidelines 2006 would seem to be inconsistent with the definitions considered in some case law on the subject and the statutory Architectural Heritage Protection Guidelines, which states: ‘The notion of curtilage is not defined by legislation, but for the purposes of these guidelines it can be taken to be the parcel of land immediately associated with that structure and which is (or was) in use for the purposes of the structure’. The proposed definition of ‘curtilage’ will also raise significant questions in relation to the assessment of impacts on heritage buildings, particularly those set in demesne lands. For example, in the case of an historic demesne, how will the Applicant or the Planning Authority determine how much of the demesne lands were ‘incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house’ ? What is the curtilage of a passage tomb, a folly set in parkland or a protected agricultural shed? Introducing a new definition of ‘curtilage’ will add a further and unnecessary layer of uncertainty for all stakeholders in the planning process.
· There is no specific reference to the potential impacts of wind energy developments on built heritage, the historic environment or landscapes of heritage importance in the Proposed Revisions to the Wind Energy Guidelines 2006. This is disappointing as there is no statement in the original 2006 Guidelines to the effect that wind energy development should protect or seek to minimise impacts on heritage buildings and landscapes. Indeed, the original 2006 Guidelines go so far as to highlight that heritage designations do not preclude wind energy development. Wind Energy and the Historic Environment (revised by English Heritage in 2012), in referencing the UK Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy (PPS 22), provides as follows: ‘The PPS also recognises that renewable energy developments may have an adverse effect on both the historic and natural environment. It therefore stipulates that applications affecting World Heritage Sites should only be granted after an assessment has shown that the integrity of the site would not be adversely affected. It also specifies that planning permission for renewable energy projects which affect Scheduled Monuments, Conservation Areas, Listed Buildings, and sites on the Register of Historic Battlefields and the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England should be granted only where it can be demonstrated that the objectives of designation of the area will not be compromised by the development’. It is suggested that the Guidelines should, therefore, require applicants for permission to demonstrate that the integrity of a World Heritage Site, Architectural Conservation Area, Conservation Area, monument, protected structure, property listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage or other historic site or landscape, or the objectives for the protection thereof, will not be compromised by the construction or operation of a wind energy development.
· While the Society welcomes moves to limit noise generated by wind energy development, it is submitted that the setting of a noise limit above current ambient noise levels is to be preferred over an absolute noise limit. This approach is also favoured by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which states: ‘in order to minimise noise related impacts to local residents, it is recommended that wind turbine noise, generally does not exceed 5 dB(A) above the background noise at the nearest noise sensitive location’. The Society, therefore, suggests that the noise limit be amended to read ‘A noise limit of 40dBA attributable to one or more wind turbines, or 5dBA above baseline background noise, whichever is the lesser, should be applied in order to restrict noise from wind turbines at noise sensitive properties’.
The Society would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss the issues outlined above. If we can be of any further assistance to this importance initiative, please not hesitate to contact us.