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Planning

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:15 pm on 11th May 2009.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 1:15 pm, 11th May 2009

I sometimes feel like a broken record when I discuss that matter. As it stands, the policy is generous to the wind-farm industry. Under the current policy, we have issued enough approvals to meet the Executive’s target for generating electricity from wind by 2012. There are 50 applications in the system, which, if approved, will enable us to meet the targets that have been set for 2025.

There has been considerable debate about the guidance notes that are attached to PPS 18. The industry, the Planning Service and I are battling on that issue at the moment. I want to put my views on the guidance notes on record.

The wind-farm industry has circulated the story that the guidance notes will restrict the height of wind turbines and reduce their effectiveness and efficiency. They want no restriction on those wind turbines. The guidance notes indicate a height limit. If developers then propose to build a turbine higher than that limit, they will have to make a case for that.

We are speaking about turbines that, very often, will be in sensitive areas of Northern Ireland. A balance must be struck when approving a planning application. There are beautiful tourist areas, and people go to those areas because they enjoy the landscape and the natural heritage, but someone may want to build a wind turbine of a size equivalent to the BT Riverside Tower beside the Waterfront Hall in the middle of that area. All that the guidelines say is that — and we are speaking mostly about land-based turbines — if an applicant wishes to make a case for a wind turbine that is higher than 80 m, they must be able to justify it. That will then become a material consideration, and what I am announcing today will be part of that.

When judging the acceptable height of a wind turbine for which someone is seeking planning permission, the environmental considerations should be taken into account, as should the social considerations because they will, of course, generate more noise, flicker etc for people who live nearby. The economic considerations should also be taken into account. Someone may well argue that a bigger turbine is needed to make the proposal economically effective. That will be a consideration of which the planners will have to take account.

Rather than opposing the point of view that Mr McKay expressed, my announcement should actually be helpful. I do not think that people would be happy if I were to introduce a policy stating that developers could build turbines of whatever height they wanted, regardless of the context in which they were to be placed. If developers want to build bigger turbines, they should make the cases for them. Those cases will be examined by the planning officers, and decisions will be made.