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Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I want to make a contribution on the development of wind farms in and around the north of Lincolnshire. None has been approved, but there are plans, or at least expressions of interest, to build wind farms that would lead to up to 176 turbines to be grouped mainly around a small areaa place known locally as North Axholmealthough there is another controversial application for a site near the village of Elsham in my constituency. Hon. Members may wonder why one small part of the country gets so many applications in one go.
Mr. Cawsey: I wish that that there were the case in some respects. When tests were run, it was found that the area was rather low on wind. Hon. Members may call me a simple chap, but people might think that that would be key to building wind farms in an area. Apparently, the answer is to build higher turbines, with bigger blades, and the problem is overcome. Of course, that just increases local people's concerns. A so-called gold-digger syndrome might be more important. A company comes into an area, does all the research and tests, and the plan becomes a viable option, so other companies start to think that the work has been done. More and more hon. Members may see similar trends in their own constituencies.
In the relatively short time that we have, I do not want to debate the principles of and reasons for promoting renewable energythose are not in doubtbut I want to talk about the process involved in locating wind farms. There seems to be general agreement across all the main parties that wind has a role to play, and I want to consider some of the comments that have been made in that respect.
The Government's view is straightforward. There is a 10 per cent. target for renewable energies to be in place by 2010, and that is a move from 0.7 per cent. in renewable energy output when they came to power in 1997. Of course, renewable energy is not just wind. In the debate in the House on 25 October, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment pointed out that the Government have invested £500 million in non-wind renewable energies, £117 million in offshore wind farm technology, £60 million for energy crops and biomass energy, £31 million for photovoltaic energy cells, £12.5 million for micro-power schemes and £50 million for marine renewables. All of that is welcome, but many of the technologies are relatively new and are still developing. In the same debate, my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce pointed out that, with the progress that is being made in renewable energy sources that are not related to wind, the best that we can hope for by 2010 is a third of our target being met by those technologies and another third being provided by onshore or offshore wind.
I thought of those points at the weekend following the climate change conference in Argentina at which the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who leads for the Conservatives on these matters, said that he thought the Government had to do more on renewable
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targets. Given the limitations of non-wind development that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce had already referred to, that has clear implications for the number of wind farms that will be required to meet the target.
In my area, North Lincolnshire council has the job of dealing with many of these applications or certainly has a say in them. On its website, the Conservative deputy leader of the council, Councillor Liz Redfern, whom I seem to have known for more years than either of us would care to remember, says:
That led to something happening in December last year that is a bit like Christmas in that it happens only once a year. The council had a unanimous resolution in which all the political groups accepted the need for renewable energy and the fact that wind farms should be part of it but should not dominate too much in one particular area.
In the debate in the House on 25 October, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who was leading for the Liberal Democrats, was taunted by Conservative Members who said that the Liberal Democrats' policy on wind farms was to support them except when they were in their areas, when they always opposed them. That led to the hon. Gentleman saying that he understood that that was the Conservative party's policy. In this pantomime season, perhaps it is a bit of "Oh yes, you are; oh no, you aren't." However, he said that the Liberal Democrats regularly support wind farm applications all over the country and went further to say that the party's policy was that there should be a presumption in favour of wind farms when applications are made. In support of that view, he said that public opinion was 80 per cent. in favour of wind farms.
I have just finished consultation of my own and my annual report in which I wrote to 30,000 households to ask my constituents what they thought should happen with wind farm technologies. In some respects, the 80:20 split came out about right, but it is interesting that the 80 per cent. who supported wind farms were split almost equally between those who wholeheartedly supported them and did not mind how many there were or where they were, and those who believed that the principle of wind farms was a good one but that there should be a limit on their number in any one area. That is the point that I want to develop today.
We seem to have got ourselves into the position in which the decisions as to where larger farms will go will be made by the Department of Trade and Industry while smaller ones will be the subject of planning applications to the local authority. The Government have, of course, come up with policy planning statement 22, which is an attempt to try to ensure that the process is clear and understood and that people have the right to have their say in it, but the issue becomes difficult when several local authorities cover a geographic area and the size of wind farms is different.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) and I share a part of the country in which there are a number of applications on the go. When we visited the then Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services, my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), we said that the position was such that his Department would determine some applications, and North Lincolnshire council, Doncaster metropolitan borough council, East Riding of Yorkshire council, West Lindsey district council and North Yorkshire county council would determine the others. However, that would often happen with no regard to what other councils or the Department were saying. There was a salami, or a slice-by-slice, process, so we said that the area would be overridden with wind farm applications because no one was trying to find out what would happen if they were all accepted. I fear that the system that has been put in place does nothing to address that problem.
Following our meeting, the Minister helpfully sent an official from his Department to meet local constituents, the campaign groups that had been formed and other people with a great interest in the proposals for the area. The official asked whether they would think that it would be a good idea if the Government were to approve what he called a cumulative environment impact assessment, whereby the applications could be considered together so that sensible decisions could be based on all proposals. Everyone thought that that would be a good idea, and he returned to Whitehall. It was a shock when he wrote a few weeks later to say that unfortunately that could not be done. That was greatly frustrating, because although I accept that he did not definitely say that such an assessment would happen, people thought that they had been offered something but it was taken away at the last minute.
We have had a change of Minister since thenthe post of Minister for Energy and E-Commerce is now held by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)and I have met him and his officials to discuss the matter again. It is clear that it is relevant to not only the Department of Trade and Industry but the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, because it involves planning applications and planning law. I understand that officials in those Departments are working together to determine whether a cumulative system could be put together for future applications. I hope that they can do that because I am sure that the situation in North Lincolnshire will develop in other constituencies, so we need a transparent and up-front system for the fair consideration of all such applications.
During Trade and Industry questions last week, the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce helpfully said that the Department was considering the matter and that he hoped that something would come forward soon. I hope that that will happen sooner rather than later, because local authorities are under pressure to determine applications that are under their control. They have targets and deadlines to meet and developers can take action against local authorities that do not reach decisions in a specific period. They want guidance so that they can do the right thing for their communities. We need the guidance now, and I hope that my plea will be taken up by the Department so that a system can be developed to assess the overall impact on an area, thus
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protecting towns and villages throughout our country from inappropriate and over-the-top wind farm development.
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