Assessing the Environmental Capacity for On-Shore Wind Energy Development: Consultation on Proposed Approach to Natural England Guidance
c/o Peak District National Park Authority Aldern House Baslow Road Bakewell Derbyshire DE45 1AE
28 August 2009
tel: 01629 816206
Assessing the Environmental Capacity for On-Shore Wind Energy Development: Consultation on Proposed Approach to Natural England Guidance
The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers:England (ALGAO:England) is part of the over-arching ALGAO:UK. ALGAO:England is the national body representing local government historic environment services on behalf of County, District, Unitary and National Park authorities in England. ALGAO:England co-ordinates the views of English local authority members (94 in total) and presents them to government and to other national organisations. It also acts as an advisor to the Local Government Association on historic environment matters.
The Association would make the following responses to the specific questions asked in the above consultation document:
1. Do you agree that there is a need for Natural England guidance on assessing the environmental capacity for on-shore wind energy?
ALGAO agrees that there should be such NE guidance, to provide a clear, criteria-based approach to assessing the environmental capacity for on-shore wind energy development, as noted in the consultation document. Such guidance should also ensure the provision of a consistent approach across the country when such assessments are undertaken.
2. Do you agree that the guidance should be primarily aimed at Natural England staff? ALGAO agrees that the guidance should be aimed primarily at NE staff but, as acknowledged in the consultation document, such guidance will be of interest and relevance to a range of other individuals and organisations, including planning authorities, developers, conservation and amenity groups, statutory bodies and undertakers and the general public. Because of this range of interest, NE needs to ensure that development of the assessment criteria does not conflict, for example, with policies and guidance either already developed or underway as part of regional or local spatial planning development.
3. Do you think Natural England guidance would be helpful to other stakeholders? ALGAO considers that such guidance would be helpful to other stakeholders to enable them to inform their own approach to assessing such proposals; to inform the development and/or review of existing policies and guidance concerned with such issues; and to reassure stakeholders that NE’s approach to assessment of such proposals is consistent across the country, within the constraints that differing landscapes and their component parts will themselves bring to any such assessment.
4. Should the guidance only consider Natural England’s statutory interests? ALGAO acknowledges the need for the guidance to address NE’s statutory interests, so long as it is made clear to all that might use such guidance that ‘conserving and enhancing the landscape’ includes those aspects that are considered by many to represent historic environment interests. As described in Annex 1 of the consultation, through reference to the Explanatory Notes of the NERC Act 2006, these include field boundaries and monuments, buildings and sub-surface archaeological features. These issues are expanded upon in the draft NE policy on the historic environment considered by the NE Board at its meeting on 29 July which, amongst other things, emphasises the intimate and inseparable interrelationship that exists between the natural and historic environments. It should also be made clear to users of the guidance that - as is noted in the draft NE policy on the historic environment - consideration needs to be given to all historic environment assets, not just those that have been designated in some way. This is because not all assets worthy of designation have yet been designated. It is also because importance can be a relative concept – while designation normally reflects national importance (with grade II listing of buildings reflecting more-local importance) many assets have a significant local importance that needs to be taken into account as part of any assessment, not least of cultural or aesthetic importance but also as part of any consultation with local communities.
5. Is there other material related to wind energy that you think Natural England should produce as part of this guidance? None springs to mind at present.
6. Do you agree with our definition of ‘environmental capacity’? Should the guidance be using different terms, such as ‘potential’, ‘scope’, ‘sensitivity’ or ‘opportunity’? ALGAO considers that the use of the term is appropriate. In the context of determining what that capacity might be, there will be inevitable tensions between the need to provide wind energy facilities ‘without causing unacceptable environmental impacts’ (PPS22 Guidance, para 2.16) and concluding what constitutes unacceptable in any given circumstance. Any such development will have impacts – both positive and negative; the skill will lie in ensuring that the assessment has access to an appropriate range of relevant information to ensure that the decision-making is as well informed as possible and that the process is balanced. In the case of the historic environment, ALGAO strongly recommends that recourse should be made, as part of this assessment process, to local authority Historic Environment Records, to ensure that as much appropriate information is available to the assessors as possible.
7. Do you think the overview of potential impacts of on-shore wind energy on the natural environment is an accurate and fair reflection? ALGAO agrees that, in the main, the overview is an accurate and fair reflection, so long as, as noted in the response to Q.5 above, it is made clear to all who might use such guidance that ‘conserving and enhancing the landscape’ includes those aspects that are considered by many to represent historic environment interests, elements that in the past have not always received the attention that they should have from colleagues whose main focus is not on historic environment issues. The importance, relevance and interrelationship of these historic environment issues to nature conservation are further emphasised, as noted in Annex 1 of the consultation, in the Explanatory Notes of the NERC Act 2006, where it is noted as including field boundaries and monuments, buildings and sub-surface archaeological features. These issues are further acknowledged and expanded upon in the draft NE policy on the historic environment considered by the NE Board at its meeting on 29 July 2009.
8. Are the proposed criteria appropriate for assessing the range of factors that contribute to environmental capacity (i.e. both ecological/geophysical and landscape factors)? ALGAO recommends that the wording of the Human Influence criterion, under Landscape criteria, needs to be re-worded. Just because a landscape demonstrates a high degree of human influence doesn’t mean that its capacity to accommodate wind energy development is greater than other areas. There are few, if any, landscapes in the British Isles that are not the result of human influence, some of it intense and ongoing – and that includes many rural areas. In the same context, attention needs also to be given to the reference to brownfield sites in the ‘Indicators of high capacity’ under ‘Human influence’ in Table 3.
ALGAO applauds the sentiments expressed in the section on Scenic Quality, not least because landscape character is so much the reflection of its historic environment content and past development.
ALGAO strongly recommends that the Historic Environment criterion should be explicit that it includes non-designated as well as designated heritage assets. As noted in the response to Q 4 above, many assets of national importance have not yet been designated, while many locally important assets have significant relevance for the communities within which they exist and which hold them in high regard. Designation covers only some 5% of the overall historic environment resource, which means that, necessarily, there remains 95% with varying levels of perceived importance.
9. Are there any criteria missing? If so, please list and explain. While no criteria appear to be missing, or there are no criteria into which things cannot be accommodated, the emphasis on ‘features that are highly valued’ in the Historic Environment section of Table 2 needs better definition. When compared with the historic environment section in Table 3, this appears to be taken as designated historic environment assets. As has been noted elsewhere, not all assets have been designated yet which means that some nationally important assets are included within that 95% - absence of designation does not indicate absence of significance or importance. At the same time, it is not necessarily the nationally important assets that are the most significant for or most cherished by communities and this issue needs to be factored into consideration.
10. Should any of the criteria be merged or amended? No comment.
11. Do you have any other comments on the proposed criteria? No comment.
12. Do you agree with the proposed approach to assessing capacity? ALGAO considers that the approach appears to have an element of objectivity and consistency that should inform assessment of on-shore wind energy development. However, there is some concern that the final assessment of whether or not the impact of a particular proposal is acceptable or not will remain subjective rather than objective. A suite of further worked-up examples to demonstrate how the assessment process would work, using different areas and more-comprehensive datasets would be extremely useful to demonstrate the efficacy or otherwise of the proposed assessment process.
13. Do you agree with approach to considering scale and cumulative impacts? ALGAO agrees that scale and cumulative impacts need to be taken into account.
14. Do you agree with the ‘weighted-density’ approach taken to identifying and mapping ecological and geophysical features and the nine datasets used, or should the guidance take a ‘boundary’ approach? No comment.
15. Do you agree with the approach to using GIS and other information to inform the application of the landscape criteria? ALGAO agrees with this approach, subject to the caveats and comments made in the response to Q 16 below.
16. Are the suggested GIS maps and datasets the right ones? Table 3, GIS Mapping for Landscape Assessment Criteria, appears to indicate (under the ‘Historic environment interest and value’ criterion) that only designated historic environment assets will be considered, through reference to an historic environment designations map. The ‘Skylines and settings’ criterion refers to an historic environment map. Are these one and the same?
If it is proposed that the focus should be only on designated assets, then ALGAO has significant concerns about this approach. As noted in the response to Q 8 above, only 5% of assets are designated, leaving 95% of the known assets undesignated (including those worthy of designation but not yet designated) and apparently not to be taken into account in this assessment process.
As has already been pointed out, not all assets have been designated which means that some nationally important assets are included within that 95% - absence of designation does not indicate absence of significance. At the same time, it is not necessarily the nationally important assets that are the most significant for or the most cherished by communities and this issue needs to be factored into consideration. In addition, it is noted on page 27 of the consultation document that ‘conserving and enhancing the landscape’ includes, inter alia, buildings. However the historic features map used on page 48 as part of the example of how the various criteria might be applied, does not include listed buildings of any sort nor does it include conservation areas. Both listed buildings and conservation areas are national designations and should be taken into account in assessing the impact of on-shore wind energy development.
Consideration of the historic environment significance of an area should be undertaken in consultation with English Heritage and the historic environment officers advising the local authority. The Historic Environment Record (HER) which virtually all local authorities either have or have access to, and Historic Landscape/Environment Characterisation data that many local authorities maintain, should be the principal databases used to inform assessment of the impact of on-shore wind energy development on historic environment assets.
It is acknowledged that Table 3 is headed ‘GIS Mapping’ and that not all HER data can necessarily be made available as a GIS layer. However the relevant column is headed ‘and other data sources’ and ALGAO strongly recommends that the ‘Skylines and setting’ and ‘Historic environment interest and value’ sections should include Local Authority Historic Environment Records as an appropriate database to consult with.
It is strongly recommended that Natural England liaises with ALGAO to see whether and in what form relevant databases might be generated from the HERs, in the same way that the Selected Heritage Inventory for Natural England (SHINE) database has been generated to inform the Farm Environment Record of the Environmental Stewardship Scheme.
17. Do you have any comments on the general principles for fit with landscape character in Annex 2? No comment.
18. Do you agree with our proposal for regional workshops? ALGAO considers this suggestion to be eminently sensible and hopes that historic environment representatives from local authorities or their representative association will be invited to attend.
19. Do you have any suggestions for potential opportunities to work with Natural England to test how our criteria can be best applied at a regional and/or sub-regional scale? ALGAO strongly recommends that there should be consultation with local authority Historic Environment Records (HERs) as part of the process of assessing the impact of on-shore wind energy development. HERs are the principle repository of historic environment data for any particular local authority administrative area.
Liaison should also occur with ALGAO to explore the possibilities of developing specific historic environment datasets for use in assessment, as has been done with the Selected Heritage Inventory for Natural England (SHINE) database used in progressing Environmental Stewardship Scheme agreements.
If you have any comments or queries on the above, please feel free to contact me.
Ken Smith Convenor, Countryside Committee and Vice-Chair, ALGAO:UK