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United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Development without tears

Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has published a planning checklist for wind power projects aimed at developers and local government authorities. The checklist sets out guidelines defining a minimum standard of practice for developers.

FoE is a strong supporter of wind power but has also expressed its concern at the way some wind farm developers have been insensitive to local concerns when taking forward their plans. In putting together its checklist FoE hopes to see a more sensitive approach in the UK. It believes the adoption of good practice by developers would lead to faster development of wind power with resulting environmental benefits.

The checklist rules out wind farm development in some designated areas including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and local or national nature reserves. Although it states that larger wind farms should not be built within national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty, it concedes there may be instances when some smaller scale projects of up to ten turbines are appropriate. Thorough environmental impact assessment for all larger wind farms are also demanded. An assessment should give information on all possible impacts as well as the environmental and economic benefits of the project. Smaller projects should undertake an environmental impact report.

The checklist stresses the importance of involving local communities early in the development process. It says developers should provide information to as wide an audience as possible about their plans throughout -- and even after -- the development process. It urges that early consultation should be central to the developer's approach to a project, saying "the support of local communities is often the determining factor as to whether projects are taken forward." The process of drawing up an environmental impact assessment gives a timely opportunity to provide information to local residents and allows for local consultation at a stage where it could genuinely influence the development, FoE points out.

As well as calling on developers to adopt its best development practice principles, FoE hopes the checklist will help planners recognise good practice. It also asks planners to try to assess the true level of public opinion about a project rather than rely merely on the strength of feeling of the anti-wind farm campaign. Another aim is to aid FoE's own local groups to assess proposed developments in their areas. "While nationally we encourage good practice in wind farm developments, we have had requests from local groups for help in assessing projects," explains FoE's Fiona Weightman. She says that FoE would not support projects that fail to meet all the criteria in the checklist. "We want to ensure that in the end we get good projects with the support of local communities who have been informed and consulted about them," she says.

One wind farm project not to win support from Friends of the Earth is National Wind Power's proposed Flaight Hill development in Yorkshire. FoE has joined the long list of objectors to the controversial 44-turbine proposal. Weightman says the group is opposing the planning application purely on the grounds that the site is a proposed SSSI. "Bird studies have shown there to be significant breeding grounds on the site," she says.

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