Planners and developers overlook residents’ experience of Scottish wind farm noise nuisance

Ragne Low, ClimateXChange Project Manager
Ragne Low, ClimateXChange Project Manager

An independent study into noise nuisance from wind farms in Scotland has recommended improvements to planning guidance and practice by both wind factory-farm developers and local government planners.

Published today, the report by ClimateXChange –  Scotland’s centre of expertise on climate change – also identified a common theme where assessments of visual, shadow-flicker and noise impacts from wind farms ‘do not always capture the experience of residents’.

The study was governed by a Project Steering Group (PSG) with representatives from various local and national interest groups representing both those living near wind farms and wind farm developers and operators, including Scotland Against Spin and Scottish Renewables, and representatives from local and national government planning interests.

The report presents the findings of a two-year study reviewing 10 wind farms from across Scotland, comparing the impacts predicted before development to those evident once the wind farm is operational.

As the first of its kind in the UK, the study extends understanding of how local residents experience wind farms. The report makes a number of recommendations for better guidance on how to predict and mitigate impacts, and suggests there is a need to present expected impacts to residents in a more meaningful way.

The test sites included wind farms at Dalswinton in Dumfries and Galloway, Achany in the Highlands, Drone Hill in the Borders, Hadyard Hill in South Ayrshire, Little Raith in Fife and West Knock Farm in Aberdeenshire.

The project looked at whether the impacts predicted by developers in documentation submitted with their planning applications are consistent with the impacts experienced once the wind farm is operational.

The research used two sources of information:

  • How local residents experience and react to visual, shadow flicker and noise impacts.
  • How the predicted impacts at the planning stage compare with the impacts when the wind farm is operating, as assessed by professional consultants.

The main findings are:

  • The majority of assessments presented at planning stage for the ten case study wind farms identified and mainly followed extant guidelines.
  • However, for some of the case study wind farms, extant guidelines were not consistently followed and/or the impacts predicted in the documentation submitted with developers’ planning applications were not consistent with the actual impacts as assessed in this study or as reported by some local residents.
  • Assessments and public engagement activities had not always adequately prepared residents for the impacts of the operational wind farm in terms of visual, shadow flicker or noise impacts.

Ragne Low, Project Manager for ClimateXChange, said: ‘As the study has focussed on issues relating to the planning process, we are confident that the findings will feed into improved practice in measuring the predicted impacts of proposed wind farms, and in communicating this to decision-makers and those likely to be affected.’

‘The findings point to several possible improvements in planning guidance and good practice. Some have been implemented in the time between the case study wind farms being planned and built, and the present. The study will contribute to building on these improvements.’

‘It is very encouraging to see that the project has been overseen by a broad steering group, and we urge everyone involved to continue this inclusive process to develop the impact assessment process.’

A spokesman for Scotland Against Spin – the national organisation which campaigns for reform of Scottish wind energy policy – welcomed the publication of the Scottish Government study into wind farm impacts.

He said: “This study is the first of its kind in the world to put  the experience of people living near wind farms at its heart.

“For too long, people who have complained about wind farms have been dismissed as nimbies, and we applaud Energy Minister Fergus Ewing for commissioning this work.

“These recommendations show that the planning system is ill-equipped to address potentially adverse impacts on wind farm neighbours, and we urge the Scottish Government to lose no time in implementing them.

“For too long, decision-makers on wind farms have been asked to determine applications while blind-folded about the true impacts of placing enormous industrial machines near people’s homes.

“This study is an important step in the right direction but it has been plagued by delay and a lack of transparency over the data collected, where the commercial interests of the wind farm operators have trumped those of local communities.

“We call on Mr Ewing to continue the sterling work he has started with this study, devote adequate resources to investigating noise and health impacts and fast-track much-needed planning reform.”

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