LDP11 Landscape Sensitivity and Capacity Assessment for Onshore Wind Turbine Development

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2.1 This study was commissioned by Conwy County Borough Council (CCBC) and Denbighshire County Council (DCC) - (the ‘Councils’). Its purpose is to provide an evidence based assessment of the relative sensitivity and capacity of the Conwy and Denbighshire’ landscapes to accommodate wind energy development of varying scales (focussing on smaller scales), with the aim of informing the development of strategic Supplementary Planning Guidance and assisting the Councils in assessing the landscape and visual effects of wind energy development for development control purposes. Key requirements of the brief for the study were transparency, clarity and relative simplicity, with a focus on smaller scale developments. For the purposes of the SPG, the area covered only relates to Conwy County Borough.
2.2 Conwy has a significant expanse of rural upland areas with an abundant wind resource. This includes Clocaenog Forest which has been designated as one of seven Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) in Wales (TAN 8) with an indicative capacity target of 140 megawatts (MW) (approximately 50 modern wind turbines of 100m in height)3. The Welsh Government’s approach is to limit the development of large scale wind farms to the SSAs, which have been independently and empirically assessed to be the most suitable areas for wind energy development. However, Welsh Government planning policy does not set out spatial limitations for wind energy development under 25MW which are applicable to all parts of Wales subject to the assessment of localised effects. In light of the increasing number of planning applications, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening opinion requests and pre-application enquiries being submitted to the Councils for individual and clusters of wind turbine developments of varying scales, this study has been commissioned in order to guide development to the most suitable locations and ensure that the key characteristics and quality of the area’s landscapes are safeguarded.

3 Ove Arup & Partners (2005), TAN 8 Annex D Study of Strategic Search Area A – Clocaenog Forest Final Issue Report

2.3 Wind turbines are tall structures, which are typically sited in open or elevated areas. This raises the potential for extensive landscape and visual effects, which is exacerbated by the often complex visual interplay between different lighting conditions and the scale and form of groups of turbines.
2.4 The movement of the rotor blades attracts the eye and in certain lighting conditions moving turbines can be highly visible from a long distance.
2.5 The acceptability of wind turbines in the landscape is an emotive subject and one where compromise is often needed. Whilst it is generally acknowledged that the most valued aspects of the natural heritage should be protected, those landscapes of lesser value can normally accommodate some wind energy development, albeit in a controlled way to minimise adverse effects.

2.6 This study considers the main factors that influence the sensitivity of Conwy’s landscape to wind energy development and describes how these are combined to identify spatial variations in relative sensitivity4. It then provides an indication as to where wind energy development might best be located and an indication of the appropriate scale of development, based on thresholds of maximum capacity5.

4 Relative Sensitivity – the sensitivity of each discrete geographical ‘landscape unit’ is assessed in relation to the baseline of the overall study area.

5 Maximum capacity refers to the extent to which a landscape can accommodate wind energy development without significant adverse effects on landscape character, quality, fabric, value or amenity, including significant adverse visual effects.

2.7 The assessment approach was developed with the Project Steering Group which includes representatives from both Councils as well as representation from Natural Resources Wales6 (NRW). This is a strategic study and is not prescriptive at an individual site level. It does not replace the need for the Councils to assess individual planning applications or for specific local landscape and visual impact assessment as part of formal EIA.

6 Formerly the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

2.8 The study is not a cumulative appraisal of wind energy developments and is limited to landscape character and visual amenity issues. It does not take account of other natural and cultural heritage considerations (except where they relate to landscape character and visual amenity, including setting), technical factors such as wind speed, grid capacity, aviation constraints or the perceived need for wind energy development. The study focuses on smaller scale wind energy developments and does not consider the remaining capacity of TAN 8 SSA A.

Planning and Policy Framework

2.9 National Policy Context

Planning Policy Wales (PPW) (2012) Edition Five
Land use planning policies for the Welsh Government set out in Planning Policy Wales (PPW) establish the Government’s objectives for conservation and improvement of natural heritage, in particular the protection of native habitats, trees and woodlands and landscapes with statutory designations. The LANDMAP information system is endorsed as an important resource to use for landscape assessment. All forms of renewable energy are promoted where they are environmentally and socially acceptable.

2.10 Relevant policies are provided in Appendix 2 and extracts from PPW regarding renewables is included below as follows:

The UK is subject to the requirements of the EU Renewable Energy Directive. These include a UK target of 15% of energy from renewables by 2020. The Welsh Government is committed to playing its part by delivering an energy programme which contributes to reducing carbon emissions as part of its approach to tackling climate change. The Welsh Government’s Energy Policy Statement (2010) identifies the sustainable renewable energy potential for a variety of different technologies as well as establishing its commitment to energy efficiency. It explains the aim by 2050, at the latest, to be in a position where almost all local energy needs can be met by low carbon electricity production. The approach is to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency first and maximise renewable and low carbon energy generation at every scale across Wales. This is part of a concerted effort to tackle climate change in Wales.

Planning policy at all levels should facilitate delivery of both the Welsh Government’s overall Energy Policy Statement, and UK and European targets on renewable energy. The Renewable Energy Directive contains specific obligations to provide guidance to facilitate effective consideration of renewable energy sources. In this context both local planning authorities and developers should have regard in particular to the guidance contained in Technical Advice Note 8: Planning for Renewable Energy, Technical Advice Note 22: Sustainable Buildings and Planning for Renewable Energy - A Toolkit for Planners.7

7 Planning Policy Wales (Edition 5, November 2012)

Technical Advice Notes

2.11 PPW is supported by a series of Technical Advice Notes (TANs) including TAN 8: Renewable Energy which allocates seven SSAs across Wales within which most large wind farms (> 25MW) can potentially be located and sets a target maximum capacity for each. TAN 8 identifies areas where proposals are likely to be supported, areas to be afforded significant protection from wind farm development, and the approach to be followed elsewhere.

2.12 Welsh Government planning policy does not set out spatial limitations for wind energy development under 25MW and those smaller developments under 5MW, both of which are applicable to all parts of Wales subject to the assessment of localised effects. TAN 8 states that most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes although there may be some potential for wind farm schemes up to 25MW capacity on urban brownfield sites and for smaller community based and domestic wind farm schemes less than 5MW elsewhere.

It is generally recognised that there is a presumption for major landscape change within, but that there should be no significant change outside, SSAs.

2.13 LANDMAP Information Guidance Note 3, (Using LANDMAP for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment of Onshore Wind Turbines) refers back to TAN 8 and provides more detailed information about SSAs and wind energy development with a view to avoiding, minimising and compensating for adverse effects. Relevant text from this guidance note is included in Table 1.1 below.

Table 1.1: Extracts from LANDMAP Information Guidance Note 3

Areas within and immediately adjacent to Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) TAN 8 Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) are considered the most appropriate locations for large scale wind farm development (Welsh Assembly Government, 2005). Within the SSAs landscape change has been accepted, and the creation of ‘wind farm landscapes’ in these areas acknowledged by Government as an outcome of delivering renewable energy targets, “within (and immediately adjacent) to the SSAs, the implicit objective is to accept landscape change i.e. a significant change in landscape character from wind turbine development.” However, given the height of turbines, the visual impacts of a wind farm inside an SSA, may well affect the character of areas some distance away. Such issues arise most clearly where SSAs are close to National Parks and AONBs. An example is the Hirwaun Inquiry, 2008, where large wind turbines sited within 8km of the National Park boundary were considered to be unduly intrusive.
Other areas outside the SSAs. TAN 8 states that “in the rest of Wales outside the SSAs, the implicit objective is to maintain the landscape character i.e. no significant change in landscape character from wind turbine development”. Whilst “most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes”, wind farm schemes may be proposed on urban/industrial brownfield sites (up to 25MW), as smaller community based schemes (generally less than 5 MW) or as part of the re-powering and/or extension of existing wind farms. The LVIA should help determine if the “environmental and landscape impacts are acceptable” (TAN 8 2.11-2.14).

2.14 TAN 12: Design, requires Local Planning Authorities to appraise the character of the landscape, including its visual and sensory qualities and emphasises that landscape character needs to be considered when developing a robust and coherent planning framework. This is intended to help ensure that development including wind energy developments is sited in areas which are best able to accommodate them thereby helping to limit adverse effects and maintain landscape diversity. TAN 12 advocates the use of LANDMAP to help inform and identify where development is preferable in landscape terms.

Local Policy Context

2.15 Conwy Local Development Plan 2007 – 2022

The Local Development Plan (LDP) covers the part of Conwy County Borough that lies outside Snowdonia National Park (known as the Plan Area). The Plan Area contains diverse, high quality landscapes ranging from the open moorland of Hiraethog (the Denbigh Moors) to locally significant spaces around towns and villages. The coastline of Conwy is seen as playing an important part in attracting visitors to the area. The key objective of this SPG is to inform the assessment of landscape impact and capacity (as updated) in the implementation of policies NTE/4 and NTE/7 of the LDP. Policy NTE/4 deals with Special Landscape Areas and NTE/7 deals with On-shore wind turbine development. Further SPG documents are being prepared to cover the wider subjects regarding On-shore Wind Turbine development, Landscape, Biodiversity, and Design which will also impact on and inform on-shore wind turbine development proposals. The Council is also preparing guidance on Community Benefits from wind farm development in the Plan area.

2.16 Accompanying the LDP is a series of background papers which explain how specific policies have been formulated. Two of these are relevant to this study:

Revised Background Paper 27 - Special Landscape Areas, August 2012 (covering Conwy only)
This background paper explains how LANDMAP was used to identify and designate a number of Special Landscape Areas (SLAs) within the Plan Area. These are shown on the LDP Proposals Map and include:
 SLA1 - Y Gogarth a Phenrhyn Creuddyn (Great Orme and Creuddyn Peninsular)
 SLA 2 – Rhyd y Foel i Abergele (Rhyd Y Foel to Abergele)
 SLA 3 – Dyffrynnoed Elwy ac Aled (Elwy and Aled Valleys)
 SLA 4 – Hiraethog
 SLA 5 – Cerrigydrudion a choridor yr A5 (Cerrigydrudion and the A5 corridor)
 SLA 6 – Dyffryn Conwy (Conwy Valley)

Development will only be permitted in the SLAs if it is shown to be capable of being satisfactorily integrated into the local landscape.

Clwyd Landscape Assessment 1995 - Useful Historical Data (covering Conwy & Denbighshire)

2.17 The landscape assessment of the former county of Clwyd covers both Conwy and Denbighshire. It was based on the Warwickshire landscape character assessment which is documented in CCW’s report, Assessment and Conservation of Landscape Character: The Warwickshire Landscapes Project Approach (CCP332, 1991); this remains a widely accepted method for assessing landscape character. The assessment identified 27 distinct landscape types within four broad categories

- Lowland Areas, Lower Hills and Valleys, Limestone Country and Marginal Uplands.

Snowdonia Local Development Plan 2011-2022 (covering Snowdonia National Park)

2.18 Conwy and Denbighshire share authority boundaries with Snowdonia National Park Authority. Snowdonia National Park has used LANDMAP to inform the identification of Landscape Character Areas (LCAs) and accompanying management guidelines. Although the National Park Authority decides planning applications within its area, Conwy Borough County Council and Denbighshire County Council are the planning authority for adjoining areas. Because any development in these areas could affect the wider setting of the Park, the Environment Act 1995 requires the Councils to consider the purpose for which the National Park was designated.

Seascape Assessment of Wales (covering Conwy & Denbighshire)

2.19 The Seascape Assessment of Wales subdivides the Welsh coast into 50 regional seascape units detailing the character and qualities of each unit. It also assesses the sensitivity and capacity of each seascape unit to offshore renewable energy developments. Whilst the report focuses on offshore wind energy development it nevertheless provides a valuable information resource in determining the potential effects of onshore wind energy developments on seascape character and qualities.

Approach to the Study

2.20 The objectives of the assessment are to:
  • Provide a strategic assessment of the relative sensitivity of Conwy and Denbighshire’s landscape to wind energy development using a defined set of landscape and visual criteria that includes both physical and perceptual aspects as well as a consideration of landscape value.
  • Identify the key landscape, visual and perceptual sensitivities of different areas.
  • Provide broad guidance on those areas where wind energy development of different scales is potentially most acceptable and those areas where there is likely to be significant adverse landscape and visual effects; bearing in mind the capacity limits.
  • Comment on any likely cumulative and cross boundary effects of wind energy development.

There is currently no formally agreed approach for assessing the sensitivity or capacity of landscapes to onshore wind energy development. The methodology set out in Section 2 is developed from current guidance and the approach taken in other similar studies. It is based on the premise that wind energy development should be more readily accepted in the least sensitive areas and should avoid areas that are highly valued for their scenic, recreational and undeveloped qualities such as tranquillity and remoteness; particularly those areas safeguarded by international or national designations and those where the cumulative effects of existing and consented wind energy schemes limit further development.

Structure of the Report

2.21 The remainder of the report is structured as follows:
  • Section 2: Methodology
  • Section 3: Baseline landscape of Conwy and Denbighshire
  • Section 4: Evaluation of landscape units and their sensitivity to wind energy development
  • Section 5: Evaluation of landscape strategy areas and capacity assessments
  • Section 6: Guidance for wind energy development within strategy areas

The report is also supported by figures and appendices as listed in the contents.

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