Draft PPS18: Renewable Energy
Annex 1 Wind Energy Planning Issues: Landscape and Visual Impact
A49. In order to minimise wind speed variations, commercial wind energy developments need to be located in areas of relatively smooth and rounded relief. They also require ready access to the electricity transmission and distribution system unless they are intended solely for private use. The current generation of turbines is capable of operating at lower wind speeds than previously due to the marketing regime and wind turbine size increases, which has the effect of increasing the types of areas (and landscapes) that may attract developer interest. Public concern over the visual impact of past (and many current proposals) has been a recurring feature. Experience, following construction, suggests that much of the fear is unnecessary. It is, nevertheless, an issue that continues to need to be addressed.
A50. There are a number of publications that can assist planners, developers and other professionals in addressing landscape issues. These include the Landscape Institute publication Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment 2nd edition, 2002 (currently under review); Scottish Natural Heritage (2001) Guidelines on the Environmental Impacts of Windfarms and Small Scale Hydroelectric Schemes ; and Scottish Natural Heritage (2005) Guidance: Cumulative Effect of Windfarms, Version 2.
A51. Northern Ireland has a variety of landscapes as identified in the Northern Ireland Landscape Character Assessment, 2000. Some will be able to accommodate wind farms more easily than others, on account of their landform and relief and ability to limit visibility. Some are highly valued for their quality. There are no landscapes into which a wind farm will not introduce a new and distinctive feature. Given the Government’s commitment to addressing the important issue of climate change and the contribution expected from renewable energy developments, particularly wind farms, it is important for society at large to accept them as a feature of many areas of the Region for the foreseeable future.
A52. This is not to suggest that areas valued for their particular landscape and/or nature conservation interest will have to be sacrificed. Nor that elsewhere, attempts to lessen the impacts by integrating the development into the surrounding landscape would not be worthwhile. On the contrary, it emphasises the need for account to be taken of regional and local landscape considerations. Careful consideration is required to locate the development and even though highly visible, every effort should be made to reduce the impact and aid integration into the local landscape.
A53. The landscape and visual impact of wind turbines is influenced by:
- land form;
- landscape character and features;
- number, size and layout of turbines, and their inter-relationship;
- how the turbines relate to the skyline
- design and colour;
- visual receptors;
- access tracks; and
- ancillary components like power lines and substations.
In addition it is acknowledged that the construction and transportation of turbines will have an impact on the local landscape.
A54. The capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind farm development depends on three considerations:
- the degree of impact the development will have on the existing character of the landscape;
- the sensitivity of the character of the landscape; and
- the extent to which this impact can be modified and reduced by design.
However it will not necessarily be the case that the extent of visual impact or visibility of wind farm development will give rise to negative effects; wind farm developments are by their nature highly visible yet this in itself should not preclude them as acceptable features in the landscape.
A55. The ability of the landscape to absorb development depends on careful siting, the skill of the designer, and the inherent characteristics of the landscape such as landform, ridges, hills, valleys, and vegetation.
A56. A cautious approach is necessary in relation to those landscapes which are of designated significant value, such as both existing and proposed Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site and the proposed Mourne National Park and their wider settings. Here, it may be difficult to accommodate wind turbines without detriment to the Region’s cultural and natural heritage interests.
A57. Specific to the Northern Ireland context, the Department’s Environment and Heritage Service has commissioned a study of the 130 Landscape Character Areas (LCAs) identified in the Northern Ireland Landscape
Character Assessment, having specific regard to potential wind energy developments. This study will focus on the sensitivity of the LCAs to wind energy developments and will identify landscape characteristics that may be sensitive to wind farm development and will also consider the landscape and visual analysis process. Within such broad areas there will be areas of varying sensitivity with different implications for development.
This section contains the following sub-categories: