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Planning

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:30 pm on 11th May 2009.

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Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 1:30 pm, 11th May 2009

I am not sure what subjective guidance the Member is referring to. It may have been better if his question had been a bit more specific.

The criticism that I have heard from the wind industry is not that we are being subjective, but that we are being too prescriptive on turbine heights, and so on. I hope that I have explained in my earlier answer why we have set those limits, and what developers have to do if they wish to make a case for taller turbines.

As for renewable energy and its implementation in Northern Ireland, we must be careful not to regard wind power as some type of panacea. There are downsides. We have introduced and will introduce planning policies that seek to assist those who wish to introduce renewable-energy projects to their own homes at a micro level. One of the proposals of the planning reforms is to allow some of those projects as permitted developments, so that there would be no need to apply for planning permission. That cuts down time and cost.

Permissions that have been granted for large-scale developments and onshore applications demonstrate that we have been fairly generous. Members will also have an opportunity to debate the impact of legislation on offshore wind farms when they consider the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [HL].

I wish to be very clear: even if we have a large number of renewable-energy projects across Northern Ireland, the baseload must still be provided by energy providers that can assure consistency of supply. That adds cost, because parallel systems will tend to be run.

That is why we must be very careful that we do not simply see the construction of wind farms as some kind of panacea. We should not think that if we stick up wind farms, we will get all our energy for nothing because the wind will provide it and we will not have to buy oil or coal. It does not quite work like that.

That is one of the reasons why planning policy must reflect the balance between getting renewable energy where it is feasible and protecting our natural environment. It should not be forgotten that many wind farms are built on environmentally sensitive sites, because that is where the wind blows strongest and it is where they are easiest to locate.