Caduscott Farm, UK – Planning Inspector Protects the Needs of Autistic Children
Cornwall Planning Inspector disallows an Appeal for a single wind turbine to be sited near a home in which there are children with autism spectrum disorder.
Inspector Neil Pope writes: In determining this appeal I have taken into the account the need to have regard to the best interests of children and the right to respect for private and family life.
The Planning Inspectorate Appeal Decision
Site visit made on 3 March 2014 by Neil Pope BA (HONS) MRTPI an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Decision date: 15 April 2014
Appeal Ref: APP/D0840/A/13/2203226
Caduscott Farm, East Taphouse, Liskeard, Cornwall, PL14 4NG.
• The appeal is made under section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against a refusal to grant planning permission.
• The appeal is made by Mr Hugh Pendray against the decision of Cornwall Council.
• The application Ref.PA12/11613, dated 10/12/12, was refused by notice dated 19/6/13.
• The development proposed is the erection of a small scale 100kW wind turbine on a 37m tower.
1. The appeal is dismissed.
2. Although the submitted plans show the proposed wind turbine with a tip height of 47.1m the supporting documentation states that this would be 48.5m. The Council considered the application on this basis and I shall determine the appeal accordingly.
3. An application for costs was made by the appellant against Cornwall Council. This application is the subject of a separate Decision.
4. Whether the benefits of the scheme, including the production of electricity from a renewable source, outweighs any harmful impacts, having particular regard to: the impact upon character and appearance of the area; the effect upon the setting of the Grade II listed Caduscott Farmhouse and; the likely effects upon the health and well-being of the residents of Great Twelvewoods Farmhouse.
5. The development plan includes ‘saved’ policies from the Caradon Local Plan 1999 (LP). Policy REN1 is permissive of proposals for the generation of energy from non-fossil fuel sources subject to specified criteria, including no unacceptable impact on the character and appearance of the landscape. Under policy REN2, wind turbines are only permitted if a proposal would not cause, amongst other things, unacceptable damage to amenity and landscape, as well as no unacceptable effects on the amenities of neighbouring properties. When taken together, these two policies are broadly consistent with the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (‘the Framework’).
6. The draft Cornwall Local Plan was published in 2013. As this Plan has not reached an advanced stage towards adoption it can only be given very limited weight. It is not relied upon by the Council.
7. My attention has also been drawn to the Council’s 2011 report ‘An Assessment of the Landscape Sensitivity to Onshore Wind and Large Scale Photovoltaic Development in Cornwall’ (ASL). The proposal would comprise a small-sized turbine as defined in the ASL. This document has yet to be adopted by the Council and can only be given limited weight.
8. In determining planning applications for wind energy development, Footnote 17 of ‘the Framework’ states that planning authorities should follow the approach set out in the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (EN-3), which should be read with the relevant sections of the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy (EN-1). Amongst other things, EN-1 states that the Government is committed to increasing dramatically the amount of renewable generation capacity and EN-3 states that onshore wind farms will continue to play an important role in meeting renewable energy targets. In addition, ‘the Framework’, amongst other things, seeks to increase the use and supply of renewable and low carbon energy.
9. I have also taken into account the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance for renewable and low carbon energy, as well as the Ministerial Statements1 of 6 June 2013. In addition, I have had regard to the separate Ministerial Statement2 of 23 March 2011.
10. I have also taken into account the provisions of various Acts3, Directives4, Strategies5 and statements6 relating to renewable energy, including the 2007 energy white paper7. Amongst other things, these set out and identify progress towards achieving the legally binding target of reducing UK emissions by at least 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, as well as achieving the UK’s obligation of 15% of energy consumption from renewable energy resources by 2020. They reflect the Government’s commitment to renewable energy. These are important matters to weigh in the planning balance. However, I also note the advice in the Planning Practice Guidance that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protection or the planning concerns of local communities.
11. On behalf of the appellant, it has been calculated that the proposal would generate an estimated annual production of 272,054 kWh a year. It has also been calculated that this would be the electricity equivalent to meet the requirement of 49 Cornish homes, although 110,000 kWh of electricity produced would be used directly at Caduscott Farm. This would help offset running costs and reduce the carbon footprint of appellant’s farm business and home. It has also been calculated that the scheme would result in 121 tonnes of CO2 savings/annum. Some interested parties dispute these figures and have calculated that the scheme would produce 208,488 kWh a year, which would be the electricity equivalent to 35 homes and 70 tonnes of CO2 savings.
12. Whichever of the above sets of figures turns out to be the most accurate, ‘the Framework’ states that even small-scale renewable or low carbon energy projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the appeal scheme would increase the security of supply and support an existing rural business and benefit the local economy. These matters can be given considerable weight in the overall planning balance.
Character and Appearance
13. The appeal site forms part of the appellant’s farm holding. It is located towards the upper edge of a sloping field. It is approximately 4.6km south of Bodmin Moor Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and 0.75km north of an Area of Great Landscape Value (AGLV). This area of countryside comprises part of the ‘South East Cornwall Plateau’ Landscape Character Area (LCA) as defined in the 2007 Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Landscape Character Study.
14. The key landscape characteristics of this LCA include open, medium to large scale gently rolling plateau with a pattern of low irregular Cornish hedges with hedgerows and sparse tree cover, as well as isolated farms and large modern houses scattered throughout. As I noted during my visit, this part of the countryside also includes main roads and some overhead lines supported by poles/pylons. I also saw a few wind turbines within the wider landscape.
15. The ALS identifies the land outside the AONB in the ‘South East Cornwall Plateau’ as having a moderate sensitivity to wind energy development. The landscape strategy is for occasional small or medium clusters of turbines, or single turbines that may be up to and including sizes at the lower end of the ‘large’ category (100-150m high). Wind energy developments should also be clearly separated so that collectively they do not have a defining influence on the overall experience of the landscape. The siting guidance includes a requirement to consider views from local viewpoints and popular routes, as well as protecting the scenic qualities of the AONB and AGLV.
16. As I saw during my extensive site visit, the appeal site can be seen from sections of various public rights of way and roads that bisect the surrounding countryside. It can also be seen in views from some dwellings, including those along the south western edge of Dobwalls. The site forms part of the attractive open qualities of the countryside that surrounds this settlement.
17. The proposed turbine would accord with the landscape strategy of the ALS and would be clearly separated from the nearest turbine8 so as not to have a defining influence on the overall experience of the landscape. It would not involve any significant erosion or harmful disturbance to the landscape fabric of the area. Landscaping planting could be made a condition of an approval to offset the limited impact9 of the short length of new access track.
18. The proposed wind turbine would be visible from parts of the AONB and AGLV. However, it would not be so tall or unduly close to the AONB to diminish the scenic qualities or natural beauty of this nationally important landscape. There is also no cogent evidence to demonstrate that it would significantly detract from any important viewpoint within the AGLV. However, from some sections of the public footpaths that run to the north and north east of the site, as well as some sections of minor country lanes to the south west, the proposal would comprise a tall, man-made addition to the landscape that would contrast awkwardly with the height and form of most existing landscape elements.
19. From the north, north east and south west, the movement of the turbine blades would ‘draw the viewer’s eye’ and accentuate the impact of the proposal. To a limited extent, this would erode the unspoilt open qualities of the countryside. Whilst this weighs against an approval, the movement of traffic along the A390 and A38 can be seen and heard from these areas. This is not a tranquil area of countryside. This harm would also be limited to the ‘life-time’ of the development10 and would not result in any lasting impairment.
20. Moreover, some landscape and visual harm is an almost inevitable consequence of accommodating wind turbines within the countryside. There is general policy support for this type of development and changes to the character and appearance of the landscape are likely to arise if climate change is not tackled. The scheme would not result in unacceptable impact or damage to the character or appearance of the landscape and would accord with the provisions of LP policy REN1. The harm that I have identified above would not, by itself, be sufficient to justify withholding permission. I note that the Council’s reason for refusal makes no reference to character or appearance.
Setting of Listed Buildings
21. Caduscott Farmhouse dates from the early 17th century. This attractive, two storey, stone rubble and slate hung dwelling with a slate roof is approximately 250m from the appeal site. Whilst the significance of this designated heritage asset lies primarily in its inherent architectural qualities and historic fabric, the appeal site comprises part of its countryside setting. This agricultural land is an integral part of the context to this building and contributes to the significance and understanding of this traditional Cornish farmhouse.
22. As I saw during my visit, views to/from the appeal site/farmhouse are restricted by a combination of topography, including a mature beech tree growing in a hedgebank along the edge of the garden, and a sizeable group of farm buildings. In the winter, only the upper parts of the turbine (blade tips) are likely to be visible from this listed building and during the summer the proposal would be almost completely obscured. The development would not intrude into or mar any important views from the farmhouse.
23. The wind turbine would be seen in association with Caduscott Farmhouse when viewed from the public footpath near ‘Bridge End’ to the north east. From here the listed building nestles into the landscape and is seen as part of a farm group. The height of the turbine and rotating motion of its blades would be something of a ‘distraction’ in views of the farmhouse and would be of a very different form, scale and appearance to the listed building. Although it would be set well apart from the farmhouse the proposal would, to a very limited extent, diminish the countryside setting of this heritage asset. In the context of ‘the Framework’, this would be less than substantial harm and would be reversible. Whilst the Council is unconcerned by this impact, even very limited harm would be at odds with the duty11 in respect of the setting of listed buildings. This also weighs against an approval.
24. During my visit I also noted the relationship between the appeal site and the 19th century Grade II listed Church of St. Peter in Dobwalls and the Grade I listed Church of St. Pynnochus at St. Pinnock. From everything that I have seen and read, the proposal would not harm the setting/significance of these other designated heritage assets.
Health and Well-Being
25. Great Twelvewoods Farmhouse (GTF) is situated approximately 1.2km from the appeal site and is immediately adjacent to the A38/A390 traffic island on the edge of Dobwalls. As I saw during my site visit12, this property is currently being restored and is occupied by a family with three children13. One of these children (Child A) has autism and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and another (Child B) has an autistic spectrum condition with a very high anxiety level, abnormal sensory profile and ketotic hypoglycaemia. Child A and B share a first floor bedroom but the intention is for them to have separate bedrooms as the farmhouse restoration progresses. Child C suffers from selective mutism.
26. I note the medical details (including the letters from a Consultant Paediatrician and Associate Specialist) concerning Child A and Child B. I understand that Child A gets very anxious when he/she sees “windmills”14 and this can result in that child being sick. I also understand that when Child B sees a wind turbine he/she can begin vomiting, which in turn causes a drop in blood sugars requiring emergency hospital treatment. Increased noise levels could also have a very negative effect on the emotional well-being of Child B. The mother of these children has informed me that due to increased stress levels worrying about the consequences of the appeal scheme she is under medical observation. This family clearly have numerous medical issues to deal with. I am not unsympathetic to this but I must deal with this issue dispassionately.
27. The proposed wind turbine would be seen from some upper floor rooms in GTF, including some bedrooms. It could also be seen at the beginning and end of the school route and would be visible when travelling along sections of the local road network. From these parts of the public domain views of the turbine would be transitory and the proposal would form a very small part of the numerous ‘distractions’ on route to school. These are likely to include passing vehicles and motor vehicle noise, as well as pedestrians (some of whom could be school friends). Some of the children’s attention would also be focused on crossing the various roads. The development is unlikely to be the sole or main focus of attention for Child A or Child B whilst travelling to/from school and along the local road network. No trip is free from risk and the likelihood of the turbine increasing the children’s anxiety levels outside GTF would be limited.
28. Child A and Child B are likely to spend much time in their bedrooms and in spaces which are familiar to them and in which they feel comfortable and at ease. One of the intended bedrooms for these children would have facing views towards the proposed wind turbine. Although the development would be located over 1km from GTF it would be readily visible from this bedroom as well as some other upper floor windows in this dwelling where the children could be reasonably expected to have/need access. The children could also be expected to spend some time looking out of these upper floor windows and unlike transitory views from the public domain this would be a ‘fixed’ outlook.
29. The turbine would be a constant feature of the views from the upper floor windows and the movement of the turbine blades could be an ever-present thought in the minds of the children whilst inside GTF. For these children it is likely to be visually dominant addition to their perception of the landscape. This could significantly increase the risk of enhanced anxiety levels and sickness in these vulnerable residents, as well as the need for hospital treatment.
If this were to arise, it would have an adverse impact upon the health and well-being of these children and the family unit as a whole. This would weigh heavily against an approval. The proposal would adversely affect the amenities of the family and be at odds with LP policy REN2.
30. The background noise from traffic moving along the A38/A390 and the separation distance between GTF and the proposed wind turbine would be very unlikely to result in harmful noise disturbance to Child B. This does not therefore weigh against an approval.
31. Autism has been an issue in some previous appeals elsewhere in the country and my attention has been drawn to the findings of two Inspectors who determined appeals15 on a site in North Lincolnshire. The Council relies on the first appeal to support its case, whereas the appellant relies on the later decision. However, each case must be determined on its own merits with particular regard to the evidence. Unlike the proposal before me, the scheme in North Lincolnshire was for a wind farm and much taller wind turbines. There were also other wind turbines in existence around the affected property. This is not directly comparable to the situation before me. I also note that in the second appeal, agreement was reached between the appellant and the affected family in respect of mitigation.
Evidence was also presented from somebody that appears to be an expert in Autistic Spectrum Disorders confirming that the mitigation was sufficient to protect the welfare of the children. These decisions are very different to the situation before me.
32. The appellant’s agent has drawn my attention to the comments made by the Inspector in paragraph 32 of the second appeal decision in North Lincolnshire and has sought to cast doubt on the robustness of the medical evidence before me. I am not medically qualified and can only interpret what is before me to the best of my abilities. However, the medical conditions of Child A and Child B are not identical to those experienced by the children in the North Lincolnshire case and unlike the case in North Lincolnshire, no mitigation is proposed in respect of the occupiers of GTF. Moreover, if a Consultant Paediatrician and Associate Specialist (Community Paediatrics) did not consider that the impact of a wind turbine could have a harmful effect upon Child A or Child B I do not believe they would have made the statements that they have. These are likely to be experts in their field and there is no medical evidence of a similar or greater weight before me to either refute or counterbalance these concerns. It would be unsound to set this specific evidence aside on the basis of the more generalised findings of an Inspector dealing with a materially different case.
33. My attention has also been drawn to the ruling in ZH (Tanzania) (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 4, and various Articles contained within the Human Rights Act 1998. In determining this appeal I have taken into the account the need to have regard to the best interests of children and the right to respect for private and family life. Whilst the proposal would result in interference with the home and family life of the occupiers of GTF this must also be balanced against the interests of the general population which include tackling climate change and ensuring the security of electricity supply. The harm that I have identified above to the health and well-being of the occupiers of GTF would not amount to a violation of their human rights. However, that is not to say that permission should be granted. The benefits and the harms must be weighed in the planning balance.
34. The proposal would change the outlook from some neighbouring properties including ‘Bridge End’ and ‘Vistas’ (4 Tremabe Park16). However, the wind turbine would not be so close or unduly tall as to result in any serious loss of outlook or significant loss of amenity. Neighbouring residents would continue to experience a pleasing rural outlook. No neighbouring dwelling would become a significantly less attractive place in which to live. The appellant’s noise assessment also indicates that whilst at some lower wind speeds the turbine would be audible at the nearest noise sensitive receptors (these properties are closer to the site than GTF) it would operate within limits17 that are recognised by the Government as being acceptable.
35. The proposed turbine would be 50m from the nearest hedge to minimise any potential threat to bats. There is no cogent evidence to demonstrate that there would be any significant risk to bats or any other protected species. Whilst I note the local opposition to the scheme, this is not in itself a sound basis for withholding permission. ‘The Framework’ also states that local planning authorities should recognise the responsibility on all communities to contribute to energy generation from renewable or low carbon sources. I also note that the application was recommended for approval by the Council’s officers.
Planning Balance/Overall Conclusion
36. When all of the above matters are weighed and special regard is given to the need to preserve the setting of a listed building, I find that the benefits would not outweigh the totality of the harm. The appeal should not therefore succeed.