Northumberland County Council has released a major report which compares the reality of the effects of windfarms with the predicted landscape impacts given when they went through planning.
The independent report concludes that most installed windfarms have altered the balance of features within the landscape locally, but generally have not altered that character either significantly or irreversibly.
However, it notes the potential for harmful adverse cumulative landscape and visual and character effects is increasing, and in more sensitive locations, significant. Landscape capacity may be close to its thresholds in parts of the county.
It also identifies adverse effects upon important views and vistas from some of Northumberland’s most distinctive and important landscape and heritage features, in particular, its coastal castles.
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society has queried why the report was released without any publicity.
Lester Sher, chair of the society’s Northumberland Environmental Policy Group, said: “The technical findings of the report directly identify the problems with photomontages and visual impact assessments in wind turbine planning applications which the society and other organisations have complained of for years.”
The problems identified in the study include highly selective choice of viewpoints for visualisations; understatement of scale in photomontages; inaccurate turbine locations; understatement of effects and predicted impacts; inadequate technical quality in images; lack of cumulation information and heritage impacts underplayed.
The report supports the concerns expressed by the society and Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) regarding the cumulative impacts of the Wandylaw and Middlemoor complex of 28 turbines on the Coastal AONB and iconic heritage sites such as Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Holy Island.
The report criticises the lack of cumulative environmental impact information regarding the Wandylaw and Middlemoor schemes.
Wandylaw was largely ignored in the Middlemoor assessment despite already being scoped with the planning authority at the time of the Middlemoor application.
The report acknowledges that, ‘it is almost impossible to assess the effects of Wandylaw and Middlemoor wind Farms separately, as reported in the respective ESs, due to the extent of their combined effects whereby the two windfarms effectively read as one from many viewpoints’.
It goes on to note the exclusion of Dunstanburgh Castle, lying in the Northumberland Coast AONB, as a sensitive key receptor, in the Middlemoor landscape and visual impact assessment.
This study was carried out prior to the construction of a number of major windfarms.
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society and CPRE are concerned at the findings of this report, and say changes in government policy should be properly integrated in the council’s emerging planning guidance for wind turbines.
“A failure to get this right will, like the Middlemoor/Wandylaw turbine complex, scar our iconic tourist landscapes for decades,” the societies say.