Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Notes on Cippenham planning committee

Here's my view on how the decision was taken to refuse planning permission  for Cippenham wind-turbine, at the Slough Borough Council planning committee meeting on 22nd October, 2008.

The report to the committee recommended refusal on the following grounds:
As my notes show, some of the committee members discussed some of these points - there's no getting away from it, the proposed turbine was very big and very close to people's homes. Whether the problems it might have caused would have been as big as they suggested, I'm not sure, but they were right to err on the side of caution. Wanting to be re-elected might have something to do with it as well, but that's the game. Fair enough.

However, what is more worrying is what seems to be a general lack of understanding of exactly what it was they were deciding upon. Every councillor declared themselves in favour of renewable energy, but only Cllr Plimmer asked to know what the council's strategy actually is on renewable energy, and wanted to know why it was there is no strategy. Other committee members seem happy to repeat myths and misunderstanding about renewable energy, and ignore the fairly clear rules about what their duties are in this regard:

  • many of the councillors focussed on the identity and motives of the applicant, rather than the merits of the application, in clear breach of the rules of the committee, and despite being warned by the committee officers
  • Cllr Dale-Gough persisted in perpetuating myths about the efficiency of turbines, which even if were true, are outside the bounds of consideration of a planning committee, according to Planning Policy Statement 22 
  • A number of councillors expressed what appeared to be genuine outrage that the turbine would be connected to the National Grid, rather than directly to local homes. Cllr Swindlehurst went even further, comparing the turbine because of this unfavourably against the Slough Heat and Power power station, on the Trading Estate, even though that too is connected to the National Grid (as is every other power station in the country for the last 80 years, including houses with solar panel installations). I've tried to see the logic, but how can you prefer one installation to another, when the point on which you say makes the difference is exactly the same?

So, an expected, but still depressing outcome. Whilst this particular application probably isn't right for the intended site, it is clear that those responsible for making the decisions are not that well informed about what they are deciding upon. Will they use the same duff criteria when assessing future applications? Or will there be a strategy for renewable energy (which almost all the councillors claimed to be in favour of)?


Below is brief notes on what each councillor said, along with my comments in italics. The first speaker was the officers report, then the 3 councillors for the affected ward, then the committee members.


Officers Report
Core strategy supports renewable energy, outweighs impact on the landscape, but not local amenity.

Noise - likely input, information insufficient.

Shadow flicker - would be intermittent, and significant in Marcia Court.

Safety - access below blades, and most sites usually open land/industrial sites - turbine would be on a major route that local people could not avoid.

BAA - no objections.

New evidence from developer, does not provide any reason for changing recommendation.

New information on noise could be grounds for appeal.


Cllr Parmar
Cippenham Meadows - Labour

Renewable energy is a good idea, which he is not against in principle, but is opposed to siting the turbine in an urban area, which is the "wrong place".
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act - the right to a peaceful family life.
Turbine (including blade at highest point) would be higher than the London Eye and Big Ben.
Shadow flicker - telling residents to close curtains would be "ridiculous"
No evidence of any site selection process.
Noise from turbine would be "frightening" and "overbearing"
No bird/bat or vibration assessment.
No data on collapsing pattern. Green Park  site is designed to collapse away from M4 into "safe" landing area - no such point on this site.
Effect on House prices.
Flicker - negative effect on health/sleeplessness
Effect on radar
This was despite just hearing from the Officer's Report that BAA had no objections.
Large petition from local residents/wind rats
Recomended refusal


Cllr Chohan
Cippenham Meadows - Labour 

Started off a bit cheeky, speculating on the effect of the potential vibration on the bedrooms of his constituents.
Concerned about an overbearing "huge wind turbine". Did not think it appropriate for a local resident area, and that comparable turbines, eg Green Park, Reading, are not as close to houses.

Cllr Davis
Cippenham Meadows - Labour

Barratt Homes had not done the required research, and not concerned about local people. Suggested that a turbine should be close to the home of "Mr Barratt." Expressed opinion that "Barratt think that because it is Slough, they think they can do anything".

Planning decisions are supposed to assessed on the quality of the application, not the identity of the applicant
.

Cllr Dale-Gough
Langley St Mary's - Conservative

Declared that wind-turbines are renowned for their ineffectivenees, and that there is no wind for 30% of the time, and have to be turned off in gales.

Whilst crowd-pleasing, this is inapplicable to this decision for 2 reasons:
1)  It makes no sense to base a decision on "efficiency" of a turbine, when the fuel is free - 
http://www.bwea.com/ref/faq.html#efficientConventional coal power-stations are highly inefficient, losing a third of their energy during the process of burning coal to heat steam then cool it down again. Perhaps the councillor is confused with the "load-factor" - the proportion of energy the plant can produce compared to it's theoretical maximum.

2) It is irrelevant to the decision, according to Planning Policy Statement 22 key principle 6 : "Small-scale projects can provide a limited but valuable contribution to overall outputs of renewable energy and to meeting energy needs both locally and nationally. Planning authorities should not therefore reject planning applications simply because the level of output is small.
"

He then went on to say that a better site would be in the sewage works across the M4.

Perhaps a councillor for Langley, he could be excused for not knowing the geography of the part of the town he was talking about and making a decision on, but as a map shows, there are still houses close to his proposed site.


Wexham Lea - Independent / BILLD Group

All for "Green Energy", but not in housing estates


Central - Labour 

Is a full supporter of Renewable Energy, but "have to sensible". 
It should be somewhere it doesn't affect people, and this site would cause a lot of problems. 
Have to balance the benefits with the effects.
This would cause hazards to M4 users

As noted by several other committee members, the Green Park  turbine in Reading is right next to the M4, with no obvious ill-effects.


Cippenham Green - Labour 

Has no problem in principle with a turbine, and was quite excited when he first heard of the proposal, both as a landmark and the contribution to renewable energy it would make.
Believes these plans poorly executed, this is not the right site. 
Believes that Barratt with their close working relationship with Eton College (who sold them the land) could have come up with a better site.
Believes that Barratt are using this as a way of milking more money out of the sports-pitches which they were required to provide as Section 106 benefits, and the turbine would reduce the usage of the sports pitches

Applications are supposed to be decided upon their merits, not by speculation on the motives of the applicant

Is concerned about the structure collapsing.
Believes the idea has potential, but suffers from "shoddy execution"
Renewable energy is valid, but should be elsewhere.
Could be interesting, is a blight

Then spoke about the Slough Heat and Power power station, on the Trading Estate. Described it as using "good fuel", and expressed desire for it to supply more power. Declared that SHP currently supply power for 7-8,000 homes, and that this was the best route for renewable energy expansion in Slough.

Up to a point - SHP use both wood and FibreFuel, which according to the front page of their website is "Materials which are non-recyclable and would otherwise be sent to landfill are thus turned into a valuable resource",  but according to their "Raw Material s" page is made up of "mixed papers, magazines & junk mail, coated papers, laminates, adhesive labels, photographic paper, hygiene product rejects and pre-consumer packaging (not an exhaustive list)." So it's an incinerator, which is burning recyclable materials. But it's also a Community Heat and Power (CHP)  power station, which reuse the heat produced in electricity generation for heating local homes. So sort of "renewable", as it's not using fossil fuels, but perhaps not sustainable in the long-term as it depends upon a supply of a large amount of waste material, some of which could be recycled. Perhaps Cllr Swindlehurst was referring to the forthcoming Grundon Incinerator in Colnbrook, which was the focus of so much protest a few years ago.


Foxborough - Liberal Democrats/BILLD Group 


Asked if the council has any microgeneration strategy, as the officers haven't specified any details in the report?
strictly speaking, a 3MW turbine isn't really "micro", but it's a good question.

Officer Albertini replied that there is "broad support" for Renewable Energy, but there are no fixed standards

Cllr Plimmer considered that this kind of application is going to be coming up more often in the future, and that standards should be set now to avoid the committee having to make decisions on an undecided policy.

Officer Scourfield replied that there cannot be specific policies for everything, but the recommendation for refusal was based on general policies on amenity, safety etc. He suggested that policies may be formulated in more detail later.


Britwell - Independent Britwellian Residents / BILLD Group


Was amazed that the electricity produced will not go to Slough.
Whilst it would be nice to have an entirely local grid, this isn't how any power station in the UK works - they all link to the national grid, which then supplies homes through their own suppliers. I'm not really sure what difference it really makes, above the losses in transmission - it's not the same as buying local strawberries - "these electrons were made in Slough, see how the light burns brighter ...". That's not really how electricity works.

He then continued to talk about Barratts and their motivations for applying, to the point where Officer Wild had to intervene to remind him that applications are decided on their own merits, not the identity of the applicant.


Cllr Pantelic  did not take the opportunity to speak, though as she was sat next to Cllr Swindlehurst, may have drawn breath in preparation before he spoke again

Cllr Swindlehurst reaffirmed his view that he wants local power for local people, and that it is better to use the Slough Heat and Power for local renewable energy needs.

As the SHP website makes clear, they have not built the infrastructure for a local electricity grid, but feed into the National Grid as "Electricity output is sold under a Non Fossil Fuel Obligation contract.". Exactly how the Barratt turbine would have. So Cllr Swindlehurst opposes the turbine on the way it redistributes its electricity output, in favour of another system that works in exactly the same way, but with less sustainable fuel and more emissions. That does seem a little odd.


Cippenham Meadows  - Labour


Wanted to know how deep the foundations were going to be. Concerned about safety, the disabled day centre, playing fields and changing rooms. 
Was pleased when she first heard at first that 1,500 homes were going to be built, which is approximately the amount of homes to be supplied by the turbine, so too was very surprised to find out the power was going to be fed into the National Grid.

Again, this is how all such systems work. No power station of any kind is able to maintain a constant supply of energy to meet the fluctuating demands of a single community, this is one of the design principles of the National Grid. By having a wide diversity of both sources and loads, the National Grid is able to "smooth out" any local fluctuations by a maintaining a much larger pool of electricity.

Wanted to know why solar panels couldn't be installed instead.

Good point, but no one solution is inherently better than another. Solar panels have a much lower output, are more expensive and so have a longer "payback" time. Of course, they do not work at night and are less effective in the winter when there is less sun available, and are not suitable for every house. There are very few, if any, installed in Slough apart from some very oddly positioned traffic ones. They're less intrusive, though this may not be the policy of the planning department - there does not appear to have ever been an application  to install one in Slough. The long-term solution has to be a mix of solar, wind and other renewables, along with better insulation and energy efficiency in general. 


Vote
The application was unanimously refused.




4 comments:

Alan said...

Toby,

Couple of things here.

Forstly things like fuel poverty is not a planning matter. whilst the PPS guidance state that renewables should be taken into account fuel poverty has absolutely nothing to do with any of this.
Wind turbines are not effective and for you to state that they can rach 100% efficient is nonsense unless you have sigle handedly managed to redefine the laws of basic physics.
The only arguement on the WindRATS site which does not hold water is the point about house prices - whilst it is true that prices do fall in areas with turbines it is not a material planning consideration.
To ask for an adjournemt is a bit self righteous.
Lets be clear here this was a porr quality amateurish application by a housing developer who is strapped for cash - we all know that. If they had gone through a formal site selection process, or at least demonstrated the capability and risk mitigation at their test development in Chorley with the University of Manchester then it might have had a bit more credibility as would you if you had some consistency in your viewpoints and comments (one minute pro the application, next minute stating it is in the wrong location then again being depressed at the outcome).

Toby said...

Hi Alan,

you're right, fuel poverty isn't strictly a planning matter, but I was trying to raise the points about the wider context of sustainable energy that the officers report missed.

Self-righteous? Yeah, you've probably met me then, but shouldn't the committee make their decision based upon *all* the facts, not just the ones that the council officers choose to put before them?

As you can hopefully see from my take on proceedings, the councillors on the committee really don't understand what it is they are deciding upon, but only one of them came clean and admitted that and asked for a proper policy to be formulated.


As the for the 100%, yes, you're dead right. That was a figure from the WindRats site, used when coming up with a ludriciously high figure about how much Barratts would make from the site. They then elsewhere claim that turbines are very inefficient, so shouldn't be built.

As I recall, the maximum efficiency of a wind-turbine is the Betz limit - 59.3%
http://www.reuk.co.uk/Betz-Limit.htm


I was depressed over the sad facts that such important decisions are taken by people who clearly don't understand the basics - about half of the councillors made it clear that they were rejecting the plan because the turbine was going to be connected to the national grid, and wasn't going to be "local". If that's the case, then it doesn't bode well for any any future proposal ...

unless of course a developer offers to build an entire local electricity grid. It turns out that Slough Trading Estate have done just that, but I think they're going to be in the minority.

As for the rest of the WindRats arguments, I would question their conclusions on noise, flicker, safety, economics and TV reception, as well as their overall interest in "green" energy, in fact anything but house prices. I've sent them the recent Slough "Heat Map", because it seems something that they might want to mention to their supporters, but they don't seem interested, for some reason

Toby

Alan said...

Toby,

Either you are misreading the windrats site or deliberately misquiting.

The reference to 100% turbine efficiency from what I can see on the site is alongside calculations which also show revenues for efficiences of 50% and 20% with the 20% highlighted in bold as that is the typical efficiency with all things considered.

You can question the sites references to noice, flicker etc but I can assure you that they had advice from experts in wind turbine planning matters and their evidence was based on best available industry evidence from those who submit fully detailed applications for such proposals - far more than Barrats did.

Also of interest is the recent article http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/23/wind_spin_overblown/ with the BWEA instantly halving Co2 benefits.

Barrats could have put this farm anywhere and pumped the power into the grid - they would have received the same subsidy and revenue. Only they know why they chose to to apply for it on the edge of a highly residential area - then again a cynic might say that they thought they would get away with it and it would set a precedent for other sites they have landbanked.

Toby said...

Hi Alan,
Glad that there’s somebody else apart from me that’s still interested in this topic.
You’re quite right that now that WindRats website highlights the 20% utilisation figure. It’s too early for http://web.archive.org to have any copies yet, but I'm fairly sure that this emphasis is new. If you look at the sample letters supplied (eg http://www.windrats.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Wind_Turbine_Objection_web.txt ), then you can see that the £3m figure for 100% was the only one being quoted. I do distinctly remember this being the case, as it was quoted in the letter to the Slough Observer that I wrote a response to - http://2cheap2meter.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html

I've just had another look through the WindRats website to see if there were any "best available industry evidence" sources I missed:

* Economics - out of date figures from http://www.nfpa.co.uk (though to be fair, the price is now 13.69p)
* Flicker - YouTube
* Green Tech - none
* Noise - BBC interview and YouTube
* Property Values - the RICS report, but the link doesn't work. There's some other stuff from America, but hardly "best available industry evidence"
* Safety - bit more detail (Wikipedia), but no actual evidence of danger.
* TV Reception - very general and non-committal BBC


All very vague, really, nothing really specific, beyond the obvious fact that you might not want to live right under the blades. Most of it seems to come from American anti-windpower sites or YouTube, which might well have valid points, but it's not portrayed in a balanced way or "best available industry evidence".


I'm not responsible for or claim to understand either the BWEA or Barratts (unlike the planning committee, which is supposed to ignore the identity of the applicant), so I'm relieved that the high CO2 figure is being treated with more caution. When I'm doing these calculations (ie in http://2cheap2meter.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html) , I use 527g p/kWh, from http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/business/envrp/pdf/conversion-factors.pdf

But it's not fair to criticise WindRats too much for the approach they took, it's a local community group who successfully fought something they didn't want in their area. What is the problem is the way the application was dealt with, debated and decided upon by the Planning Committee, who should know better. In brief:

* the officers report did not discuss at all the "wider environmental and economic benefits, whatever their scale, [which] are material considerations and should be given significant weight.", as required in Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy
* half the committee seemed to be opposing the proposal either because it was Barratts, or because the turbine was going to be plugged into the national grid (like every other power station, renewable or not)


I have been drawing up an energy analysis for Slough, calculating how much is being used now (905Gwh) , how much could be saved using basic efficiency measures, how much could be obtained via practical local renewable schemes, and comparing what's left. The rough figure is that we can save/produce renewably 25% of the current (electricity) consumption - about 150GWh. That leaves 75% (759GWh) . It doesn't include electricity used by business or generated by the incinerators. I haven't figured out how to include those yet, and I'm doing something else at the mo, but I'll get round to it. It'll be interesting to compare that with the work being done with SBC and the Carbon Trust.


have a good christmas season and hope to hear from you again in the New Year

Toby