I was disapppointed, but not surprised, to read in this morning’s Independent of the UK’s failure to build onshore wind turbines.
As I was saying yesterday in the context of housing:
“The first failing [of our political system] is a confusion: are we making policy on the basis of reason or emotion?”
A corollary to this is that we have great difficulty balancing decision-making processes between local influence – self-centred and emotional – and national influence – dispassionate and reasoned.
I heard on the radio today how a family had been displaced by the Three Gorges Dam in China. One of them said something along the lines of: “It might be bad for my family, but it’s good for the wider Chinese family”. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, maybe it just reflects the different situations in China and the UK, but you’d never hear that here.
The Coalition government supports “localism” – it seems to be one of the philosophical threads that bind the Lib Dems to the Tories. In fact, this bizarre idea has become so influential that even the Labour Party pays lip-service to it, even though the roots of localism lie partly in opposition to Labour’s statism.
To my mind “localism” is nothing more than window-dressing for a good old-fashioned land-grab. Property-owners wishing to extend their influence beyond the boundaries of their own estates have been egged on by opportunistic politicians – mainly the Tory and LibDem parties during their period of opposition at a national level.
Now, any and every planning proposal faces vociferous objection. Take Frank Lampard’s basement, for example. This is not a planning issue as such. The neighbours should have no say at all. When completed it will not affect them one iota. As long as Frank abides by relevant building regulations designed to prevent subsidence, noise, pollution and so on, he should simply be allowed to get on with it. There are no reasonable grounds for neighbours to object on. One worry they have is traffic associated with the building works, which they describe as “disruption”. Well, sorry, that’s what the road’s for. And it doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to all of us. Rights to use it are subject to rules that apply to everyone. We don’t go about our daily business at the whim of those who happen to live on our route.
One effect of localism will be with us for some time. Unlike in several other European countries, we’ve failed to develop an onshore wind energy industry, despite excellent resources. Nimbys must take most of the blame. Even if local decision-makers had the best will in the world (rather a big if), they are simply not in a position to weigh the general benefits of wind turbines against local impacts. That’s what we have a government for. As the Chinese well understand, but we seem to have forgotten.
The result of this short-sightedness will be more expensive electricity. Offshore wind costs around twice as much as onshore. And we’re unnecessarily spending huge sums on a dribble of solar PV. (Btw, is it just me, or is everyone getting deluged with Google ads from PV system installers? Must be a lot of profit to be made, methinks!).
Not only that, British wind energy technology companies have been disadvantaged and that’s carrying over into offshore wind.
Given the crippling economic costs to the nation of the current massive undersupply of housing and infrastructure of various kinds, including wind turbines, you’d think politicians would spend a lot of time thinking very carefully about how to organise the planning process so as to balance the national (or regional or even less local) interest will the local interest. Indeed, Labour made some attempts, but these are already being reined back, as the Indy describes:
“The situation is typified by instances such as those in North Yorkshire, where local politicians recently vetoed plans to build seven turbines in the face of official advice that they should go-ahead [sic] after a concerted local campaign.
Permission for the windfarm was later granted on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate but Maurice Cann, head of planning at Hambleton District Council, said that might not happen under the Government’s new localism plans.
‘The court of public opinion plays a big role here,’ he said. ‘I can see the situation getting worse. Some of these structures are 125 metres high and have a huge visual impact. It does not surprise me at all that so many applications are getting rejected.
‘With the Government’s agenda to give a stronger voice to local politicians this is only going to become more of an issue.’
Local councils are to get more power to make planning decisions in their areas and the Planning Inspectorate, which has given the go-ahead to a number of wind farm projects turned down by local planning authorities, will no longer have this power.
It now takes on average nearly two years from the point of application for windfarms to be approved by local councils and even then up to three-quarters will be unsuccessful, according to the report by RenewableUK, which represents the windfarm industry.” [my stress throughout excerpt]
It seems strangely appropriate to suggest we’re going to Hell in a handcart!