Second challenge to Den Brook wind farm approval

Saturday 6th February 2010 12:00 am
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THE recent decision to approve a development of nine 125 metres high wind turbines in the Den Brook valley between Bow, Spreyton and North Tawton is to be challenged at the High Court in London for a second time.

The Den Brook Judicial Review Group (DBJRG) is challenging the decision on a number of grounds including that the noise condition imposed by the appeal Inspector Andrew Pykett, is defective.

DBJRG submitted a statutory appeal of the decision on Friday, January 22.

The move will come as a blow to Renewable Energy Systems Ltd (RES) who first announced plans for a wind farm in the Den Brook valley more than five years ago.

The current RES plan is for nine three-bladed horizontal axis wind turbines, electricity transformers, access tracks, crane hard standings, control building, sub-station, temporary construction compound and met masts.

RES say the turbines will produce enough power for 10,000 homes on an average output of eight to 10 megawatts.

RES intend to bring some of the components to build the turbines by railway and say it will bring improvements to the Dartmoor Railway, as well as generate an annual community fund of £27,000.

The turbines will be three times the height of Exeter Cathedral.

Government appointed Inspector Andrew Pykett approved the wind farm in December after he decided that combating global warming was more important than local people's quality of life.

He said that the wind farm at Den Brook "would be a cause of some harm in terms of its visual effect on the landscape" but said the decision was also bound by legal guidance to "thrust in favour of adoption and growth of renewable energy".

While the inspector acknowledged the site "will not be visible from North Tawton" and "minimally from Spreyton", he did admit that it will be clearly visible from many properties in Bow, especially from houses in Hobbs Way, Nymet Avenue, Collations Walk, Gregory Close, the village hall and playing field and from properties in the Nichols Nymet area.

Other areas he said the wind farm will be visible from include Cosdon Hill on Dartmoor, the churchyard at Zeal Monachorum and other higher viewpoints.

Mr Pykett acknowledged that a Roman road crosses the site of the wind farm.

In his report he said that the lifespan of the turbines should be 25 years and that they should be lit at night.

He imposed a range of noise conditions but rejected a RES claim for costs resulting from the second public inquiry.

He also imposed "shadow flicker" conditions and raised no objection to a scheme to investigate and alleviate any electro-magnetic interference with radio or television reception.

'POTENTIALLY HEALTH DAMAGING'

Concerning the recent DBJRG decision to continue its fight against the plan, member Mike Hulme said: "This is yet another extensive undertaking in this long standing saga.

"Our assessment of the decision leaves neighbours surrounding the wind farm proposal vulnerable to sleep disturbance from potentially health damaging noise pollution created by the industrial scale turbines.

"We would like firm assurances from the developer and a robust planning condition to provide protection for us all."

Specialist acoustic advisors working on behalf of Mr Hulme and the DBJRG have carried out a comprehensive analysis of the developer's own five years worth of wind speed data. DBJRG results say they show a high probability for excessive noise disturbing neighbours for anything up to 50 per cent of the time that the turbines are likely to operate.

It adds: "To complicate matters, the levels of noise disturbance are, in the main, unpredictable because no one yet fully understands the precise causes of the excessive amplitude modulation (whump, whump sound) of the wind turbine noise that is increasingly happening at developments elsewhere".

Mr Hulme added: "RES, the developer, continues to claim: "There will be no noise nuisance."

"However, evidence from around the country shows growing numbers of people neighbouring the latest generation of wind farm developments are suffering.

GUIDELINES 'OUTDATED'

"The developer adopted the current, now ageing, guidelines to assess the wind farm's likely noise impacts. These guidelines, known as ETSU-R-97, were devised more than 12 years ago and have not been revised since, even though a recommendation for continuous updating and revisions is clearly made within the guidelines themselves.

"It is now widely acknowledged that the ETSU guidelines are outdated and in urgent need of review.

"Indeed, Inspector Pykett, commenting in his written decision of the Den Brook case stated, "...the issue is the subject of specific guidance, but I am concerned that with the growth of knowledge and the advent of larger commercial machines, ETSU-R-97 is not now as applicable as previously." (Decision letter paragraph 186).

"Advice from both our legal and acoustics advisors, leads me to be extremely concerned about the situation," explained Mr Hulme, who added: "What is more, this places my family in a very insecure and financially precarious situation. We can ill-afford the huge costs of yet another trip to the High Court but I feel there was little choice other than to appeal the decision."

'UNACCEPTABLE'

"It is essential to ensure that adequate remedial procedures are in place and legally enforceable. Our extensive research leads us to foresee that there will be noise nuisance problems arising from the development, despite RES' claims to the contrary.

"Not to adequately protect families neighbouring the wind farm from potential health damaging noise pollution seems to me not only wholly unreasonable but totally unacceptable.

"Sadly, we know of many people and families throughout the UK already badly affected and finding there is little or no recourse other than to suffer or attempt to move away, often at great personal loss.

"The increasing number of homes becoming impacted is seriously worrying. More and more huge, modern-day wind turbines are being built without there being due consideration given for the well being of neighbours.

"It is quite reprehensible that long awaited developments for renewable energy, intended to help clean up our environment, are being tainted by practices rushing to meet arbitrary targets and putting profits before people."

After the Inspector approved the plan, West Devon Borough Council said it was "disappointed" that the appeal had been allowed.

A council spokesperson said: "The Inspector felt that although there will be an impact on the rural environment in allowing this, the harm caused could be outweighed by the renewable energy benefits of the development."

Helen Hall, RES project manager for Den Brook wind farm, told the Courier: "RES was disappointed to receive the news that Mr Hulme has chosen to take out a second legal challenge against the Den Brook Wind Farm.

"Since being awarded planning consent for the Den Brook wind farm, RES has held a series of positive meetings with local community representatives, at which people said they were keen to move on from the previous uncertainty over the scheme, acknowledging that the planning consent had been granted through a fair and thorough process.

"The wind farm, which has been through exceptionally rigorous planning scrutiny for the past five years, during which no stone was left unturned, was awarded consent for the second time by an independent Planning Inspector in December.

This approval provided further reassurance to local communities that the wind farm will produce clean, green electricity for 25 years with minimal impact on local people or the environment.

"The project will generate a community fund of £27,000 per year once up and running, provide much-needed improvements to the Dartmoor Railway for the wider community, and input millions into the local economy, through contracts with local construction materials suppliers and civil engineering firms. RES is already fielding many inquiries from local companies seeking to tender for work on the wind farm.

A community liaison group is being set up, with the first meeting due to take place in March, to ensure an open and constructive dialogue with the local community and to keep them fully informed as work on the wind farm progresses.

"It is surprising to see that after a year's preparation for the second inquiry, culminating in a detailed presentation of the case against the wind farm lasting more than three weeks, Mr Hulme wants to present all the same points over again in his legal challenge.

"It seems that he doesn't agree with any of the independent Planning Inspector's conclusions and this further challenge will serve only to introduce more costs, delay and uncertainty for everyone. The need for clean energy is ever more pressing and it is time now to get on and start producing it. The local community seem to be tiring of the uncertainty and keen to get on and maximise the benefits that the wind farm will bring".

RES recently announced it wanted local people to invest in the wind farm in return for a share of the profits.

It also said that it intended to begin building the wind farm at the end of this year, an announcement which, now another hearing will have to take place, appears was premature.

Alan Quick

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