The fact that a planning application for a wind farm at Binevenagh is in an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty will make little difference in terms of planning legislation.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, whose Department has overall responsibility for planning, pointed out this week that there is no distinction between areas officially recognised as ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural beauty’ and other ‘undesignated landscapes’ in the relevant planning legislation.
A firm known as Windyfields are planning to construct a wind farm consisting of numerous huge turbines located on top of Binevenagh mountain and likely to be visible from top tourist locations such as Benone, which they say will provide clean electricity.
However, a substantial campaign of opposition has opposed the development under the name ‘Binveneagh SOS’. The campaigners say the wind farm will have an adverse impact on the stunning landscape around Binevenagh, something which they say may in turn have a negative impact upon the tourism industry.
The Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, who has previously stated that there would be a ‘presumption of failure’ for any wind farm applications in areas of outstanding natural beauty, pointed out this week that there is no legislative protection from wind farm development for those areas.
He said the relevant legislation “does not distinguish between areas designated for their beautiful significant landscape value, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and other undesignated landscapes. Nonetheless, the policy requires that all renewable energy development, regardless of whether it is proposed in a designated area or not, should not result in an unacceptable adverse impact on visual amenity or landscape character of that area.”
The Minister continued: “Wind energy interests everyone in the Chamber, and the closer we come to an election, the more interesting it becomes. Areas of outstanding natural beauty are designated as such because they are areas of outstanding natural beauty, and I believe that planning policy should afford some protection to that natural beauty. The fact that the current PPS 18 does not afford protection to the areas that it should protect has been raised with me on numerous occasions, inside and outside the Chamber. I recently put out my new strategic planning policy statement (SPPS) for public consultation, which, unfortunately, has now closed. It offered Members here, members of the public and people with an interest in planning an input into new planning policy. I have not had a chance to go through all the responses, but, when I do so, I firmly expect that Planning Policy Statement 18, which relates to renewable energy, will be one of the most thumbed chapters. I expect representation calling for a strengthening of the policy in order to provide increased protection to the areas that the Member outlines.”