Minutes of a meeting of Hamsterley Parish Council
at 7pm on Monday 12th July 2010 in The Village Hall, Hamsterley – Item 3, The Wind Farm.
(The minutes for the rest of the meeting are contained in the blog published on 4th August 2010)
Item 3 on the Agenda was a presentation to the Parish Council by HJ Banks Developments Ltd in respect of the revised proposal for a Wind Farm at Windy Bank, between Woodland Village and Hamsterley Forest
Mr Stewart Provan and Mr Martyn Earle of HJ Banks Developments Ltd attended to update the Parish Council about the revised proposal for turbines at Windy Bank, between Woodland Village and Hamsterley Forest. Their first recommendation to the Parish Council was that all communication should continue to be conducted through Emily Hooson, and this was noted.
Chairman Jane Bee then asked for an update on the proposal.
The present state of the proposal is that site information is still being collected. A period of between 12 and 18 months is typical for this process.
Mr Provan said that the initial plans had been for a development of between five and nine turbines of a height of up to 125 metres to tip of blade height. Survey work had already reduced this to seven turbines.
Since then, as the result of an in-house ‘Design Day’ held following receipt of the DCC Scoping Response, at which Ged Lawson (Senior Landscape Architect with DCC) was present, the number has now been reduced to six. The maximum turbine height would now be 110 metres to tip.
Mr Provan stated that the principal concerns expressed at that meeting had related to landscape and visual impact, and to predicted noise for nearby homes.
He stated that a new receptor (ie: location at which noise monitoring equipment has been installed) had been established just south of Linburn Hall.
Banks’ current intention is to submit a formal proposal in September or October this year (2010) but this is dependent on having obtained adequate survey data. Asked whether the current proposal was likely to be revised again, the Councillors were told that this could indeed happen but the preference is for the proposal not to be changed after submission.
Mr Provan and Mr Earle confirmed that they would remain the two project managers.
Cllr Edmonds expressed several concerns about turbine noise and Cllr Peacock asked for an explanation of the noise contours on the map Banks had provided.
They explained that the decibel levels within the contours are the predicted noise, given a worst case scenario of hard ground and maximum wind-carry. In fact, they asserted, the ground is mostly of a rural, semi-soft nature.
They confirmed that every additional ten decibels represents a doubling of noise.
Cllr Edmonds asked about compensation arrangements if actual noise levels exceeded their predictions.
He was told that a certain amount of leeway was designed into the predictions, so this should not happen. Planning conditions would be imposed, however, by DCC’s Environmental Health Officer and Banks would be obliged to compensate for any violation.
Future operation of the Site
Mr Provan confirmed that Banks would remain the future operator of the development, rather than selling it on to another operator as Banks has done at Tow Law.
They would apply the Environmental Management Plan and, although under no obligation to do this, would also conduct compliance monitoring for an extended period after construction.
They confirmed that under a typical planning agreement, if the development is not in operation for a period of 6 months, turbines must be removed.
TV, Radio and Communications Reception
Cllr Edmonds was told the company is already in discussion with analogue providers. In the Tow Law instance five or six properties had problems with television ‘shadowing’ and these were sorted out either through aerial manipulation or by providing connection to Sky TV.
Cllr Edmonds asked what the situation would be if a farm in the area wished to convert buildings to holiday accommodation, subsequent to the development being in place.
He was told that the same obligation to compensate or mitigate would apply – but in any case they would hold liaison meetings with residents to ensure no such problems arose.
Cllr Peacock asked what was proposed for the house at Mayland Lea Farm, given that the current layout of turbines clearly renders that property uninhabitable.
Mr Provan said that the layout of the turbines would change again to ensure that it did remain habitable.
The possible effect on Tourism
In answer to concerns about possible damage to tourism, Mr Provan insisted that research shows no adverse effect. He would welcome details of the case near Harrogate where a caravan park has seen a disastrous dip in income, and any others, which appear to counter this opinion.
He pointed out that some Councils are happy to make a feature of a windfarm. He quoted a site near Rotherham, which is using its windfarm as a tourist attraction and has erected information boards, and mentioned another site in Cumbria as doing the same.
He pointed out also that at the Armistead Inquiry in Cumbria, tourism effects have been deemed to be minimal and have been dismissed as grounds for objection (note: the Armistead decision is now being challenged in the High Court).
He conceded that Durham has better attractions, including the World Heritage Site, the North Pennines AONB and the Special Protection Area, so might be unlikely to do the same.
Bird Monitoring Data
Asked, in relation to the SPA, whether the full, raw bird data collected on the site would be made available, he said that it would. It would probably be supplied on CD as there would be very large amounts of data.
Asked how an application could be made as early as the autumn this year, given that the 12 months of bird data collection only began in December last year, Mr Provan said that Banks already had plenty of bird data from earlier than December 2009.
The Efficiency Figures for Wind Turbine Generation
Cllr Peacock pointed out that in the Minutes of Woodland Parish Council’s meeting it is recorded that Mr Provan stated that wind turbines are between 30-60% efficient. He pointed out that the figures for the Tow Law turbines come nowhere near this level, being at most 27% efficient and seldom achieving even 25% efficiency.
Mr Provan said several people had made this assertion to him but those figures were wrong.
Cllr Peacock pressed the point, explaining that these were the figures from the Government’s own website. Mr Provan continued to insist that they were wrong.
Cllr Peacock pointed out that they are based on the ROC (Renewable Obligation Certificates) subsidies claimed by companies in respect of renewable energy generation. He thought it unlikely that any company producing renewable energy would not claim the subsidies, and asked if Banks was producing electricity for which they were not claiming.
Mr Provan said Banks received no subsidies.
Cllr Peacock asked what he meant, given that the whole basis of wind farm operation is dependent on the subsidies.
Mr Provan explained that Banks receives no subsidies towards the cost of erecting turbines but agreed that they do receive subsidies for operating them.
Cllr Peacock also asked about the claim, made to Woodland Parish Council, that a wind farm is approximately as efficient as a conventional coal-fired power station. Mr Provan denied that he had said this. Pressed on the point, he said that the Woodland Minutes were wrong.
He then went on to claim that even the most efficient conventional power station was in any case only about 40% efficient.
Cllr Peacock pointed out that this was to confuse energy efficiency with time efficiency, and that when time efficiency is taken into account the wind farm/coal-fired power station figures bear no comparison to one another, since wind generation is intermittent.
Footpaths and Bridleways near Turbines
Mr Earle agreed that a 200-metre distance from bridleways was the normally proposed distance, whereas ‘topple’ distance of turbines was all that applied to footpaths.
He said a Risk Assessment would be conducted but he was in any case not aware of any footpaths crossing the site. It was pointed out to him that a well used footpath goes straight through the farmyard at Mayland Lea.
Connection to the Grid
Mr Earle did not know where the nearest Grid connection point was. He said that before the route for connection to the Grid can be established there would anyway be three elements of the proposal to define: the exact turbine locations, the consequent best route for grid connection, and the best access routes for roads.
Mr Provan elaborated on this answer, pointing out that the route for connection would be the subject of a separate planning application and would not be a matter for Banks to decide. The normal profile, however, would be for a line of wooden poles to be erected along an appropriate ‘corridor’ across the site and through the area beyond to the selected connection point.
Asked if the visualisation material, showing the impact of turbines on the wider landscape, would be prepared in accordance with the widely accepted Scottish National Heritage recommendations, Mr Provan said ‘Yes, definitely.’
He also confirmed that the ZTV (Zone of Theoretical Visibility) evidence would be produced in hard copies, and that these would be supplied to all affected Parish Councils. He said that they would inevitably be provided somewhat at the last minute, as accurate images could not be prepared until the final turbine positions were known.
Mr Earle intervened to acknowledge that this material would be important for local people ‘as these are quite big features in a fairly rural location.’
He stated that the views to the South West of the site, as well as those to the North would be sensitive, given the presence of the Pennine Way, even though that would be at a distance of between 20 and 30km.
Similarly, the views both to and from the Special Protection Area would be relevant. These matters were already being discussed with the County Council landscape expert, Ged Lawson.
Banks were studying key viewpoints and doing vantage point work, as well as on-site monitoring for such things as bird movements between the site and the SPA.
Cllr Peacock said that he had heard that Banks proposed to hold an exhibition nearer the time in Woodland Village but nowhere else. Did this mean there would be no exhibition in Hamsterley or Lynesack, for example?
Mr Provan said that an exhibition could be held wherever it was requested. It was simply a matter of asking Emily Hooson to make arrangements and the answer would be ‘yes.’
Cllr Peacock then mentioned the case of a prospective house-purchaser in Woodland who had been told by Ms Hooson that the proposal was ‘a done deal, a fait accompli.’ Why had this been said?
Mr Provan and Mr Earle both denied that this was possible. Emily Hooson would be aware of how complicated planning applications of this sort are, and would not say such a thing.
At this point prepared questions had all been answered. Chairman Jane Bee turned to ask the Councillors if they had any further points they wished to make.
Cllr Heslop quoted Mr Earle’s words back to him, that these turbines would be ‘quite big features in a fairly rural location.’ She said, ‘They aren’t, are they? They are massive features in a very beautiful location.’
Mr Earle responded, ‘They are enormous, of course they are.’ He then went on to make comparisons between types of rural location, saying he would see a National Park, for example, as being a more rural location. (Note: National Parks are, of course, identified locations for tourist concentrations, so considerably less rural in the sense of being untroubled by vehicles, visitor numbers and tourism facilities).
Chairman Jane Bee then thanked Mr Provan and Mr Earle for their attendance and asked if they would accept a few questions from the floor, to which they agreed. Given the late hour, she urged those putting questions not to return to issues already covered.
Continuing on the theme of Landscape Impact, the first questioner stated ‘They are not just nice views; they are stunning views. I can’t see that there is anything in this for us. I can see there is plenty in it for Banks but nothing for us.’
Mr Provan started to speak in terms of power generation but was told ‘We in Britain are massive importers of energy.’ He denied that this was the case.
In answer to the statement ‘But you need back-up’ he said ‘No we don’t – we need a range of power sources, indigenous and renewable.’
To the repeated statement that there was no benefit for local people, he said ‘We hear what you say.’
Assumptions about approval
Another questioner was disappointed by the way in which both representatives had prefaced remarks with ‘When they are built…’, which implied that the proposal was indeed a done deal, and asked whether Durham County Council is obliged to agree to a quota of turbines.
Mr Provan’s answer was that it was very disappointing if that was the view. It was not the case and there was no quota.
Cllr Quinn supported the earlier speaker, and said she had also gained the impression that this was a decision already taken. Mr Provan responded that Banks do try their best to get an agreed deal, saying ‘We are better off trying to get local determination rather than going to an expensive Public Inquiry.’
Asked ‘Why would you invest so much money unless a feasibility study was favourable?’ he answered that Banks, as the developer, has no guarantees, and pointed out that it is in their interests to put a well-constructed application together ‘because a flawed application leads to the clock being stopped.’
The questioner agreed with the statement ‘It seems there’s nothing in it for us.’ Mr Provan’s response was ‘Well, we are not a charity.’
A final questioner asked whether Banks was looking at other forms of energy, such as alternative types of smaller wind turbine. Mr Provan said that they were studying alternative forms of energy, including photovoltaics, and hydro plants, but he pointed out that even for small-scale turbines full planning applications would be needed.
At this point, with the time nearly half past nine, this part of the Parish Council meeting was closed. The Chairman thanked both men for their input and proposed a brief break in proceedings. All but the Councillors themselves left at this stage and the Meeting then continued to address the other items on the Agenda.