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United Kingdom

WATCHDOG BARKS, Policy review demanded

England's scenic countryside is in danger of being turned into a wind power wilderness, warns a British landscape watchdog. The Countryside Commission -- the government-appointed quango which advises on English countryside and landscape matters -- is calling for a review of current planning policy guidance on renewable energy.

The commission wants to see limits on wind energy development and clearer guidance from local authorities on where wind turbines may be acceptable. Designated scenic landscapes -- or even those nearby -- should be no-go areas for wind turbines, it believes. Richard Simmonds, the commission's chairman says that 17 wind energy sites have been earmarked in or next to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), two in national parks, and seven are to be developed on heritage coasts or areas of high landscape value. "We are in danger of industrialising some of our most beautiful countryside by allowing the development of these wind farms," he maintains.

Simmonds claims the commission is not against wind power and supports renewable energy. But such developments need to be carefully sited, designed and managed if negative aspects are not to outweigh the benefits. Presumption should be against wind energy developments in designated areas and in areas in close proximity to them.

Existing government advice on planning issues for wind energy schemes in England and Wales is to be found in Planning Policy Guidance Note on Renewable Energy -- PPG22. However, the Countryside Commission is not alone in believing this advice to be thin on certain matters. Bodies supportive of wind energy such as the British Wind Energy Association and Friends of the Earth have supplemented the guidance by publishing their own best practice guidelines on wind energy.

One area of concern to the commission that is not covered in PPG22 is cumulative impact of wind turbines. This has emerged as an issue with the rapid increase in the number of wind farms in the country. The commission is calling on the government to give guidance to local authorities on assessing the cumulative effect of individual schemes. As many as 141 turbines are being sited in or adjacent to AONBs, Simmonds points out. "The cumulative industrialising effect on our landscape is of much concern and if planning guidance was strengthened to protect key areas, it would help to reduce opposition to wind energy developments generally," he says.

The Countryside Commission is the latest of several countryside groups to look critically at the impact of wind energy development. In general, however, the English groups have shown themselves to be less hostile to wind than their counterparts in Wales where most wind farm construction has taken place.

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