HL Deb 17 April 1991 vol 527 cc1475-7

2.44 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they hope to produce guidelines for local authority planning authorities as to where wind farms should be sited and whether those guidelines will take into account the financial state of agriculture and the Government's encouragement to farmers to diversify into such schemes particularly in the west of the United Kingdom.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Blatch said in her Written Answer on 28th March to my noble friend Lord Norrie, we hope to issue shortly for public consultation a draft of some planning policy guidance about renewable energy installations. The draft will take into account the Government's policies to encourage farmers to diversify their activities.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, as usual I must declare an interest in that I have submitted a planning application for 19 wind turbines on my farm in Anglesey. I wish to thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply, particularly the second part of it. I hope he can tell me how he can further dispel the fears of farmers who feel that they have been led up the garden path to produce these kinds of schemes through diversification but have then been told by planners that they cannot proceed. I hope that the guidelines will make it clear that it is essential to site the wind farms in areas where there is wind which exceeds 6.5 metres per second. It is quite pointless and uneconomic to site the wind farms in other areas.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the intention of the guidelines is to encompass wind energy, landfill gas, biogas, waste incineration, wood energy crops, tidal power and hydro-power. The document will be a long one dealing with all those issues. It will also take into account the Government's policy on renewable energy. Local planning authorities are generally adopting constructive and positive approaches to alternative enterprises on farms. Such projects can make an important contribution to the rural economy. On 28th March the Government provided three Written Answers on this subject: one in this House and two in another place. The Department of the Environment also issued a news release on the same day incorporating the Written Answers. We feel that there is no reason why a local authority cannot make a judgment on a planning application on the grounds that there is no specific government advice about these kinds of development proposals at the moment.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, why are we waiting for these guidelines to be fully prepared? The Minister referred to the Written Answer given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on 28th March, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Norrie. Have local authorities been informed of what I would term the temporary guidelines mentioned in the reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, or have they not been informed of what happened in this House?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, many local authorities are aware that the Department of the Environment issued a news release on 28th March incorporating the Written Answers. Any local authorities or any person submitting a planning application will read the Written Answers. The necessary information is therefore available to them.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, will the noble Viscount bring me up to date and say whether the three proposed new wind farms will still go ahead?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Viscount because the wind farms are the subject of planning inquiries at the moment. I cannot comment on such matters.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the guidelines will reconcile the interests held by local people who want work and incomes with the apparently conflicting interests of those who regard the countryside purely as something beautiful to look at?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the guidelines will consider all those aspects. The noble Lord no doubt knows that the Written Answer requires authorities to, pay attention to the need to protect the local environment from damage and any loss of amenity which renewable energy installations may cause."—[Official Report, 28/3/91; cols. WA69 and WA70.]

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, this matter is now urgent. Many applications of the kind referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, have been submitted to planning authorities. Planning authorities have doubts about the criteria which they should use. Is it not also the case that any guidelines which are introduced, for example by the Welsh Office—that is relevant to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley—must reconcile the difficult problems of protecting the landscape with encouraging renewable energy and increasing farming incomes which are so poor, particularly in the Welsh uplands? This is a complex problem. Does the Minister recognise that it is essential that urgent consideration should be given to addressing this problem?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I agree with many of the remarks made by the noble Lord. We consider this is an urgent problem. We have taken various steps to tackle it and we hope to publish the guidelines shortly. The draft will be available for public consultation.

Lord Morris

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind the considerable benefit that could accrue to the United Kingdom if there were a domestic demonstration of the efficacy of wind farms from the commercial, economic and technological points of view, and if the wind farms were seen to be in place and to be working effectively?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend has made a valuable point. We wholeheartedly agree with it.

The Duke of Somerset

My Lords, will the guidelines take into account the views expressed by the Minister of Agriculture in a speech in Staffordshire on 21st March? He then said that he was not in the scenery business but in the business of creating jobs and work for real people.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we shall take into account everything that has been said by my honourable friends in another place concerning the Government's policies and the need for alternative energy.