Wind Farm Impacts Study Published

Yesterday (2 July 2015) the ClimateXChange group published the results from a 2-year study into wind farm planning documentation. Specifically the report was designed to determine whether the “visual [and other] impacts predicted by wind farm developers in documentation submitted with their planning applications are consistent with the impacts experienced once the wind farm is operational.

The main report is a fairly weighty 190+ pages and available for download from ClimateXChange. Uniquely, the report has a steering group of government, professional and campaigner interests.

As the report focussed on the visual impact and interpretation of planning documentation, it is of particular interest to Linknode and the development of VentusAR and LVIA communication and engagement tool for planners, developers and communities alike.

The summary below is a very high level assessment of the visual components of the document.

We welcome this research as it clarifies the existing process and reassures the public that professional assessment is of a high quality. But also that process and proportionality are important. At Linknode we create technology to make visualisation and process more efficient and VentusAR now allows you to not only engage interactively, but to do so by following existing guidance. We are happy to discuss impact and implementations with any interested parties.

Study Area
Ten sites were used for case studies. These were filtered from a long-list and varied from large developments to significant single-turbine sites across Scotland. All applications had progressed through the planning process to construction and hence provided an ideal set of as-planned to as-built comparisons.

The ClimateXChange consultants reviewed all the internal (planning authority) and external (developer and consultees, including SNH) planning-stage documents for each application. Eight out of ten contained an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which included a LVIA. Two smaller projects has no formal EIA, but did include landscape reports. Where four went to public inquiry, the reporters findings were also included.

Viewpoints were determined as appropriate for comparative assessment of documentation and for each study area visited twice (summer and winter) by a chartered landscape professional. When assessing viewpoints, the micro-siting (and lack of as-built consent documentation) made some comparisons difficult.

Additionally, a residential survey was carried out to a sample of households within 4km of sites. Six questions elicited answers on preference and for some of those site visits were carried out to assess significance. It was not clear from the document if questionnaire responses were self-selecting (which tends to promote a strong bias away from the normal).

Although disparate planning processes led to inconsistent documentation wrt visuals, GLVIA was generally applied with insignificant variations (fit for purpose).

It was not possible to ensure (through documentation review) that viewpoint coverage was representative and proportionate. In addition, it was not clear if the decision makers had actually visited viewpoints, or relied on printed materials (with some indication that reports were unread and only printed visuals consulted).

For the 25% of viewpoint assessments where the ClimateXChange professionals opinion differed from the original reporters, this was not put down to micro-siting alterations.

More detailed assessments of impacts on individual private views are not always required by the authorities and there is no standard methodology for carrying out such assessments.

Residential surveys show low correlation between residential impact and residents opinion on development. No before-and-after assessment was available.

Key Findings
The latest GLVIA (3, 2015) and SNH (2.1, 2015) guidance should be followed at all times.

A robust methodology for residential visual amenity and consistent implementation is required as consistent guidance.

Planning authorities should develop and agree pre-application and post-submission check lists for visual assessment.

Public consultation does not convey enough relevant information to attendees, and should include advice on micro-siting flexibility.

Pre-application, planning authorities should request a proportional number of viewpoints. And in addition make it clear at Scoping Opinion as to if/how residential visual amenity should be carried out.

At assessment and reporting, officials and reports should reference viewpoints visited and specific cases where their interpretation differs from the ES.

Micro-siting should be in line with documented constraints and aims in order that overall landscape objectives are retained in revisions. Final as-built location should be recorded as a matter of course (and monitored for accuracy by planning authorities).

Consultants Summary (Steering Group Statement)
The consultants suggested further improvements that could be made:
1. Guidance and methodology should be developed for residential visual impact surveys and
also, where appropriate, the overall impact on residential amenity due to the combined
visual, shadow flicker and noise effects of wind energy developments.
2. Checklists are needed for planners at scoping and post submission stages of an LVIA
(Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments) to ensure consistency and consideration of key
3. Consistent and clear reporting on the landscape and visual design objectives for a wind farm
should be set out in assessments.

Linknode Summary
The ClimateXChange report is a valuable tool in proving current, and guiding future planning governance.
The ability of new visualisation tools, in the office and field to provide low-cost, high accuracy proportional assessments of visuals means that developers, planners and communities should all get the opportunity to better understand applications and engage democratically with the planning process. Residential Visual Amenity Surveys should be an integral and essential part of the LVIA mix and VentusAR helps enable this rapidly and efficiently.