HC Deb 27 January 2003 vol 398 cc583-4W
David Burnside

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans there are to consult(a) the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and (b) the RSPB on future wind farm applications in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. [92274]

Angela Smith

All applications for wind farm developments are considered against prevailing planning policies, taking account of representations received following normal advertising and consultation procedures.

The main policy guidance in this area is contained in "A Planning Strategy for Rural Northern Ireland". This states that all proposals for wind farms will be assessed in respect of their implications for the visual, ecological and historic landscapes; the implications for agriculture; and the safety and amenity of local residents. It also makes it clear that permission will not be granted for wind turbine development in any location where it would have a seriously detrimental impact on the amenity of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or on any area designated for its conservation, scientific, archaeological or historic interest.

Consultation on wind farm proposals will normally include the Environmental Health Department of the relevant local Council, the Department of the Environment's Environment and Heritage Service, the Department for Regional Development's Roads and Water Services, the Ministry of Defence, and the Civil Aviation Authority.

In addition, under the Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999, the Department may require an Environmental Statement where a proposal is located in a 'sensitive area' and/or involves the installation of more than two turbines, or the hub height of any turbine or height of any other structure exceeds 15 metres. This Statement will provide the Department with detailed information about the impact that a proposal may have on the environment.

It is not normal procedure to consult the Northern Ireland Tourist Board on planning applications that, although in scenic areas, do not have a direct impact on tourism, and thus do not fall within the statutory remit of the Board. It is not, therefore, the practice of the Planning Service to consult the NITB automatically in relation to planning applications for wind farms and there are no plans to introduce such a practice.

The English Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 22) 'Renewable Energy' states that, apart from the movement of the blades, the development of a wind farm warrants no different approach in terms of ecological considerations from any other development, and evidence suggests that the risk of collision between moving turbine blades and birds is minimal both for migrating birds and for local habitats.

Applications for wind farms will sometimes be made in, or close to, areas designated as of ecological importance, and such applications will be rigorously examined under the policies and guidance contained in Planning Policy Statement 2, 'Planning and Nature Conservation'. However, in terms of any potential direct impact of a wind farm proposal on the integrity of sites designated as of wildlife importance, including those designated for the conservation of birds, the Planning Service's main source of advice and guidance will remain the Department's Environment and Heritage Service and there are no plans to introduce a practice of consulting the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on wind farm applications.