Planning permission has been granted for a 70m wind turbine at Glyndebourne opera house in the South Downs AONB and designated National Park - the first time that a commercial-scale turbine has been permitted in a National Park.
Lewes District Council resolved to grant planning permission for the turbine, but the application was called in by the Secretary of State at the request of Natural England.
The District Council argued that the turbine would have little real impact on the natural beauty of the area, and no significant impact when seen from the main South Downs ridge or the South Downs Way. It considered that the designation of the AONB and the proposed South Downs National Park would not be compromised by the development. The District Council recognised that landscapes are facing a very real and substantial threat from climate change, and argued that effective, long-term protection of the landscape of the South Downs was not to be achieved by opposing developments such as this, but by taking action now to seek to reduce the effects of climate change.
The Secretary of State agreed with Lewes District Council that the turbine should be permitted, concluding that "the landscape is capable of successfully carrying the turbine" and that it would "constitute the sensitive exploitation of a renewable energy source without significant detriment to the AONB". She agreed with the District Council that the turbine was not major development in a nationally designated landscape in terms of paragraph 22 of PPS7.
The Secretary of State imposed a condition which had been sought by the District Council to require the submission of a scheme including: a climate change and carbon reduction strategy, an information and education programme, measures to encourage non-car modes of transport to the opera house, and a ban on helicopter flights.
The Inspector also reached the following conclusions, based on submissions made by the District Council:
- the South Downs Management Plan and the South Downs Planning Guidelines should attract only very limited weight in the planning balance; and
- the application site was not on "open downland" and that therefore the more restrictive planning policy in the Structure Plan did not apply.
Notably, the Inspector also concluded that a renewable energy development should not be rejected because of a comparison between its adverse impact and its generating capacity, based on advice given in paragraph 1(vi) of PPS22 (see IR paragraphs 167 and 180).
The decision by the District Council was made by Members against officers' advice. The Inspector expressly records in his report that "it is entirely within order for a council to allocate different weights to conflicting considerations and thus arrive at a different conclusion".
Richard Honey appeared for Lewes District Council in support of the proposal.