Because of its flat landscape and the fact that Anglesey County Council has not updated its planning policies on wind energy for over a decade, Ynys Môn has over the past year been specifically targeted by wind farm developers — as testified by the extraordinary surge of planning applications for giant turbines.
Public outcry ensued and, despite having initially been caught with their pants down, Anglesey County Council did the right thing by speedily carrying out a public consultation on new wind energy supplementary planning guidelines (SPG) together with introducing a far more stringent planning 'checklist' for wind developers designed to reduce the number of speculative applications.
A leaked discussion document prepared by planning officers after the public consultation showed that planners were broadly opposed to introducing any blanket guidelines for wind turbines on Ynys Môn — including publicly supported minimum separation distances, maximum height restrictions, and the preservation of Anglesey's AONB together with a suitable buffer zone. The leaved document showed that in essence planning officers would prefer to be allowed to consider each turbine application on its individual merits. This is clearly unsatisfactory but we cannot really blame the officers as their role to merely interpret and be guided by national policy — in this case TAN 8 — and not to propose political fixes, which is the preserve of our elected Councillors.
TAN 8 is the Welsh Government's primary planning policy for wind energy, and establishes a number of geographically defined 'Strategic Search Areas' (SSAs) in which large-scale wind farms should be clustered. It also goes on to provide guidance on what local planning policies can and should be introduced by local authorities. As Ynys Môn falls outside any SSA areas, the most crucial part of TAN 8 to this discussion is as follows (emphasis mine):
"Most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes. Local planning authorities may wish to consider the cumulative impact of small schemes in areas outside of the SSAs and establish suitable criteria for separation distances from each other and from the perimeter of existing wind power schemes or the SSAs. In these areas, there is a balance to be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. Whilst that balance should not result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity, there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county. As a result, the Assembly Government would support local planning authorities in introducing local policies in their development plans that restrict almost all wind energy developments, larger than 5MW, to within SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites. It is acceptable in such circumstances that planning permission for developments over 5MW outside SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites may be refused."
This essentially tells Councils that although they cannot introduce local policies which would "result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity" (which would, for example, rule out blanket height restrictions), they are able to introduce what would in effect become local mini-SSAs to restrict development to one area only ("there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county"). The question therefore is: which part of Ynys Môn would be most suitable as a housing area for large-scale turbines whilst (a) providing minimum disruption to the Island's landscape and tourism industry; and (b) providing the largest possible public utility to Ynys Môn residents?
|Existing wind turbines already visible from the Rhosgoch site|
The scheme could be set-up as a giant Social Enterprise, and even go a step further by allowing various community councils and other local groups first option to rent land, thus allowing them to erect turbines which would provide a regular income for their activities. The scheme would not affect micro-wind generation and farm diversification as smaller wind turbines of up to 15 metres tall would still be possible throughout Ynys Môn outside of the AONB.
Such a policy may be open to legal challenge by developers, but in reality such an outcome would be unlikely as any challenge would be costly and take years — during which time it is likely (bearing in mind the national public disquiet regarding wind turbines) that the current generous subsidy regime for wind energy will be ended. Developers would recognise that if they want to make money on Ynys Môn they would need to rent land on the Rhosgoch site. As per the report in this week's Holyhead & Anglesey Mail about developers 'threatening' planning committee members with appeal, it is clear that developers are keen to rush through their plans as soon as possible to escape whatever restrictions may eventually come via the revised SPG and due to any changes to national policy.
Having any giant turbines on Anglesey may be unpalatable to many residents, however the fact is that without the introduction of a scheme such as I've outlined above then there is no doubt that wind turbine will multiply throughout Ynys Môn and have a real effect on tourism on the Island (all available research shows that between 10-30 percent of holidaymakers will not return to rural areas whose landscapes have been ruined by wind turbines). However, to make such a scheme a reality requires political will and unity from Anglesey's councillors — something which would provide a perfect public showcase for their strategic thinking and care for the Island as the Commissioners prepare to start handing power back to them from October onwards. It would also make 'Energy Island' a far more intelligent concept as a share of money generated from energy schemes on the island would be directly captured for the wider public good.