I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give powers to local planning authorities to specify the minimum distances permissible between onshore wind turbines of certain dimensions and the nearest habitation;
and for connected purposes.
I am proud to be a Back-Bench Member of a Government who truly believe in localism and removing the top-down, centre-knows-best approach to government that grew out of hand in the past 13 years. Nowhere was that malignant approach more visible to the people who elect us than in how the previous Government forced their views on local areas and imposed massive changes on localities, such as large, controversial housing developments, or even more controversial wind farms.
My Bill simply gives local people and communities in areas where there are such wind farm proposals a real say on whether they take such developments. Numerous communities up and down the UK will be happy to take on such development, and I strongly believe that this Government's approach of much more carrot, compared with the previous Government's stick, will ensure that more proposals are passed.
I strongly contend that such developments should be allowed only when the local residents in the affected community have actually had a say-not just when they have been consulted-on the development that will change the nature of the place where they live. I also strongly contend that the best way to save so many communities up and down the country an enormous amount of strife, and at the same time save developers a reasonable amount of money, is to allow each local planning authority to set such minimum distances. Thus everyone will know exactly the state of play in each area.
That will hopefully eliminate the huge number of speculative proposals in areas where, under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to get planning permission even for a double garage. Many Members will know of the angst that is caused by proposals for massive turbines that are completely out of keeping with the local environment.
In my constituency, the usual height of a turbine applied for is 126.5 metres. Let me put that into perspective. The tower that supports Big Ben is 96.3 metres or 316 feet to the top of the spire. The London Eye is 135 metres tall. Those two structures dominate the local cityscape. Imagine what a number of structures twice the size of Nelson's column situated close together do to the landscape in the rolling countryside of Northamptonshire or similar, but not quite as beautiful, parts of the country. If hon. Members consider that alongside the problems associated with flicker and noise from turbines, they will understand why local planning authorities are best placed to judge whether areas within their boundaries are suitable for such large-scale developments. Wind turbine operators say that if there is a minimum distance between turbines and dwellings-a distance of 2 km, say-there would be very few areas in the United Kingdom where turbines could be sited. That might be the case, but my Bill does not state what the minimum distance should be; it simply gives local planning authorities the opportunity to determine such distances-hopefully after consulting the people who live in an area-based on local knowledge and local conditions.
Many hon. Members feel the same way, including my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Guy Opperman), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) and for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans), who have all followed me on this matter with great interest. In an Adjournment debate in October, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend Charles Hendry reflected on the direction of current Government policy, saying:
"We have seen the benefits from offshore wind, but we recognise that communities often feel concerned that proposed wind farms in their areas will destroy the environment or have other negative impacts. We are convinced that, in the policy of localism that we are going to drive forward, local councils should be the driving force in deciding how they want their communities to develop. That is a fundamental part of the planning changes we are making."-[ Hansard, 13 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 137WH.]
I would like to think that the Government will see this ten-minute rule Bill as a helpful nudge in the right direction, and perhaps even try to encompass it in the forthcoming localism Bill, and in doing so put some public confidence back into the planning system.