Policy RE1 Renewable Energy Development
Outside of Special Countryside Areas, a proposal for a renewable energy development together with any associated buildings and infrastructure, will be permitted where it meets the General Policy and accords with other provisions in the LDP. In addition, the proposal must meet all the following criteria:
it will not have an unacceptable adverse impact on visual amenity or landscape character;
it will not cause significant harm to the safety or amenity of any sensitive receptors43 (including future occupants of committed developments) arising from noise; shadow flicker; ice throw; and reflected light;
it will not unacceptably restrict public access to the countryside, or recreational/tourist use of the area;
no part of it will have an unacceptable impact on roads, rail or aviation safety;
it will not have an unacceptable adverse impact on nature conversation and biodiversity;
it avoids active peatland, unless it is demonstrated there are imperative reasons of overriding public interest as defined under The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 as amended;
it will not have an unacceptable adverse impact on air quality, water quality and quantity; and
it will not prejudice the operational effectiveness of existing or approved energy infrastructure.
A cautious approach for renewable energy development proposals will apply within areas of the countryside that are valued for their distinctive landscape and environmental qualities. Certain types of renewable energy development proposals will also be restricted within the Areas of Constraint on High Structures. (see Countryside Strategy strategic spatial proposals and policies and Safeguarding our Natural Environment policies).
The wider environmental, economic and social benefits of all proposals for renewable energy projects are material considerations that will be given appropriate weight in determining whether planning permission should be granted.
Where any proposal is likely to result in unavoidable damage during its installation, operation or decommissioning, then the applicant must indicate how such damage will be minimised and mitigated, including details of any compensatory measures, such as a habitat management plan or the creation of a new habitat. Applicants will also be required to ensure that upon decommissioning, all above-ground redundant structures, plant, buildings and associated infrastructure shall be removed and the site restored to an agreed standard appropriate to its location. These matters will need to be agreed with Council before planning permission is granted and appropriate conditions applied to any approval.
A proposal for the re-use, refurbishment or repowering of an existing renewable energy development in order to extend its lifespan will be considered favourably subject to meeting the criteria within this policy.
Wind Energy Development
In addition to the above, a wind energy development proposal must also meet all the following criteria:
The development proposal has taken into consideration the cumulative impact of existing wind turbines, including extant permissions and undetermined applications;
The development will not create a significant risk of landslide or bog burst;
No part of the development will give rise to unacceptable electromagnetic interference to communications installations; radar or air traffic control systems; emergency services communications; or other telecommunication systems; and
A separation distance of 10 times rotor diameter to any occupied, temporarily unoccupied or approved dwelling outside the applicant’s control can be achieved. A minimum distance of not less than 500m will generally apply to wind farms44, with single turbines assessed on a case by case basis.
Ground Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations
A solar development proposal will be permitted provided it meets both the Renewable Energy Development criteria and the General Policy. Large scale solar farms will not be permitted within the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB or Areas of Constraint on High Structures designated in the LDP.
Justification and Amplification
This policy applies to all renewable energy developments including wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass. It aims to facilitate renewable energy development in appropriate locations within our Borough, whilst balancing recognised benefits against any potential environmental or social impacts.
All renewables proposals should demonstrate the environmental, economic and social benefits (including the amount of energy to be produced and the contribution to meeting Northern Ireland’s renewable energy targets) as well as how any environmental or social impacts have been minimised or mitigated against through the siting, scale, design and layout of the development. These benefits are material considerations which will be given appropriate weight in determining whether planning permission should be granted.
Renewable energy developments can impact on residential amenity at nearby properties, therefore a sufficient separation distance should be applied to ensure there are no unacceptable adverse impacts in terms of visual, noise or shadow flicker. Applicants will be required to take into account the surrounding topography and vegetation, as well as the orientation of nearby dwellings, and demonstrate that visual dominance will not occur. Noise impact assessments may also be required to assist Council to properly assess the level of potential noise disturbance from the proposed development. Shadow flicker assessments will be required for properties within 500metres and that lie 130degrees either side of north of a turbine.
Particular care should also be taken when considering the potential impact of renewable proposals on the landscape. The landscape and visual effects of renewable developments, in particular wind energy and large scale solar farms, will vary on a case by case basis according to the type of development, its location and the landscape setting of the proposed development. Proposals should not be considered in isolation, but cumulatively with other renewable energy developments in the locality. As with other types of new development, there will be a presumption against new renewable energy development proposals in an SCA, other than in the exceptional circumstances outlined in Policy CS2. Renewable energy development proposals will also be restricted within Areas of Constraint on High Structures (as outlined in Policy CS3) where there will be a presumption against development of wind turbines that exceed 15 metres in height, or any other forms of energy infrastructure development (such as solar energy infrastructure) that will adversely impact on the landscape character by virtue of their visual prominence and/or the environmental integrity of the designated area. Council will apply a cautious approach for renewable energy development within other designated landscapes and their wider settings. In such areas it may be difficult to accommodate larger scale renewable energy proposals without detriment to the Borough’s distinctive landscape, cultural and heritage assets.
The significance of environmental impacts on habitat and species, geological, heritage and cultural features will depend on the type and scale of the renewable energy development and the sensitivity of the location. Where a renewable energy development is likely to have such adverse impacts, applicants will be required to bring forward mitigation measures, and where appropriate, compensatory measures for consideration.
It is acknowledged that certain renewable energy resources, such as hydro or wind, can usually only be developed where they occur and some degree of impact may be unavoidable. In relation to wind energy, this can only be exploited where wind speeds are sufficiently fast. By its very nature the wind resource is likely to be greatest in upland areas, which may be particularly sensitive in terms of their landscape, cultural heritage and nature conservation value. It is also recognised that larger-scale wind energy developments are likely to be visible over distances. To assist the Council, proposals should be accompanied by an objective assessment, for example, in the form of a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA). In some cases, this may form part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, where required. Nevertheless, the Council will still expect an assessment of the environmental effects of the development to be submitted with any application. The level of detail required should reflect the scale of the technology employed and take account of its location.
The ‘Wind Energy Development in Northern Ireland’s Landscapes’ supplementary planning guidance document published by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, identifies landscape characteristics that may be sensitive to wind turbine development. This document provides guidance on the landscape and visual analysis process, and the indicative type of development that may be appropriate. In addition, applicants should also refer to the Mid and East Antrim Landscape Character Assessment which identifies sensitive landscapes within the Borough (see Technical Supplement 10 Countryside Assessment).
Other types of renewable energy development such as solar farms have the potential to negatively impact on the rural environment, particularly when located in open landscapes. The use of previously developed land will be encouraged for large scale solar farms. However, if a solar proposal does involve greenfield land, it should allow for the continued agricultural use and/or encourage biodiversity improvements around installations. Proposals for large scale solar should use native hedging as screening to mitigate landscape and visual impacts, and be located on lower lying undulating landscapes outside of the Antrim Coast and Glens AONB and designated Areas of Constraint on High Structures. Depending on their scale, design and prominence, a solar farm within the setting of a heritage asset may cause substantial harm to the significance of the asset. Therefore, in order to fully assess the visual impact of such proposals, they will be required to be accompanied by a LVIA.
Applicants should also ensure that any associated buildings or infrastructure such as cabling, fencing, lighting, CCTV, substations or energy storage facilities are all appropriately located. Applicants should also ensure the design and location of their proposal will not adversely impact on, or ‘wrap-around’ existing or approved energy infrastructure, as proposals which prejudice the operational effectiveness of such infrastructure will not be permitted.
In relation to hydroelectric power generation schemes, applicants should be aware of siting within catchments with a flow gauging station as this can completely alter the flow regime of a river. DfI Rivers will advise against siting in such areas, as this would result in the loss of decades of national river flow archive data used to estimate flood risk across the UK.
Active peatland45 is of particular importance for its biodiversity, water and carbon storage qualities. Development should avoid these areas as the cutting and drainage associated with the development of, in particular, wind turbines and their associated infrastructure, has the potential to severely impact on the hydrology of a large area of active bog. In addition, development in peatland involves a risk of a mass of peat or bog movement, resulting in land slide or bog burst. Where development is proposed on peatland, the onus is on the developer to provide robust information identifying existing, potential and construction induced peat landslide hazards. Where complete avoidance of risk is not possible the proposed design should be modified to incorporate engineering options for mitigation of risk. Permission will not be granted where the level of hazard identified or where engineering solutions have the potential to significantly increase the level of disturbance, or drying out of the peat and release of carbon. Where the hydrology of other peatland sites has been negatively impacted upon through previous interventions, measures may be taken to restore such areas to active peatland. In promoting mitigation/compensatory measures for renewable energy developments the Council may require developers to restore areas to active peatland that are within or adjacent to the development site.
In relation to renewable energy developments which become redundant, applicants will be required to provide details on future decommissioning and restoring of the site to as close as possible to its original state. These details must be submitted with the proposal, and will be conditioned on any approval (or a legal agreement where appropriate) to ensure the works necessary to restore the site to an agreed standard are undertaken. For wind farm and solar development, it is likely that the duration of the planning permission will be linked to the expected operational life of the turbines or solar panels. However during this period, proposals may be forthcoming to extend the life of the project by either re-powering or re-equipping the original scheme with newer technology. Given there are obvious advantages in utilising established sites, such cases are likely to be given favourable consideration subject to meeting this policy and any other relevant considerations.
The publications, Best Practice Guidance to PPS8 ‘Renewable Energy’ (DOE, 2009), and draft Supplementary Planning Guidance to PPS18 ‘Renewable Energy’ Anaerobic Digestion (DOE, 2013), will continue to be taken into account in assessing proposals.