Wind turbine comments have a page of their own!
Response to the SHDC draft guidance on sustainable energy in the South Hams
by Tim Padfield
The documents are clearly written and clearly composed from existing documents of wider, usually nationwide, scope. There is little that is special to the South Hams except maps of landscape type which are presented without indication of their relevance to the issue.
To make the documents relevant to the South Hams it would be good to have a map of the existing electricity distribution grid. This information is not publicly available at the detail which is useful, such as the capacity of each section to absorb generated electricity. It would also be useful to identify spaces where environmental change would be strongly resisted - mainly nature reserves and SSSIs. The AONBs are man-made landscapes where human activity is essential to maintain their charm. Rich farmers are (often) better guardians of the landscape than poor ones, so solar energy income should not automatically be opposed in AONBs.
The guidance documents are dominantly defensive of the existing landscape with a long list of safeguards which must be overcome by the applicant. It would be much better to take a positive initiative: to identify spaces which are well suited to wind turbines and solar panels; places with sparse habitation, good wind and good access to the electricity net. So far, individual applications have each commissioned their suite of impact statements, with much overlap of content. SHDC should produce one single environmental statement for the whole region and fast-track applications in the best suited places, without excluding applications elsewhere, which would still have to make their case individually. This approach is exactly that used to establish housing sites in the rural areas DPD, so the district council evidently has resources to do this. The effort would be repaid by the resulting simplification of the examination of individual applications.
In recent applications there have been objections by statutory bodies such as English Heritage and by self-appointed lobby groups such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England which have been bizarrely antagonistic, for example the objection by EH to "crude" turbines visible in the same field of view as Luscombe Cross - a two metre high ancient waymark with more recent pastiche Cornish Cross atop, with immediately adjacent muddy public space used for drivers to eat their lunch and occasionally for more romantic activity. This over-concern for matters that no-one ever considered important in everyday life without turbines, is the mark of a society which is currently rich enough to indulge whimsical reasons for not paying its way in the world.
In the recent judgement on the Langridge Cross wind turbines, there is a long and vague discussion about protection of flying species, mainly bats, with a 'holding objection' raised and apparently sustained in the final judgement without further explanation. These objections are based on 'potential impact on...'. The wording is so vague that it can be used by any pressure group to argue against any change anywhere there is detectable wildlife.
It is time for the district council to show some courage in facing up to frivolous and absurdly wide-ranging grounds for objections to change in the landscape, and to wind turbines in particular. It could make a start by stating that applications by local cooperatives, giving local participation in the profits of the enterprise will be regarded as favouring approval. The council can encourage compensatory enhancement of the variety and beauty of the landscape and can argue for better public access to the fully enclosed and private South Hams inland landscape. These considerations are not formally admissible by the starchy rules of planning law but in the early stages of negotiation such compensation in both money and amenity can sway the local inhabitants to support solar energy initiatives. This consultation with local people has, for recent applications, been made much too late in the process and initially with far too little generosity to local people. Opposition to solar power is inevitable in the present social environment, with powerful newspaper campaigns against wind power in particular. The lower lying solar voltaic arrays have so far escaped similar campaigns but the new landscape of shining fields developing in the valley west of Totnes may lead to opposition also to this method of power generation.
I hope for a more vigorous engagement by SHDC than it has hitherto shown. Farmers' cooperatives should be encouraged, so that turbine and solar panel placement can be separated from the accident of land ownership. Local communities should be encouraged to develop their own plans for renewable energy, suited to their own environment, be it hydro, wind, solar-voltaic or biomass from woodland.
An open letter to the First Group Bus manager for the Totnes area, Tally Ho and DCC public transport service manager
by Tim Padfield, 20 February 2012
I attach a photograph taken on the A381, Totnes Western Bypass, looking south at the bus stop sign just north of the Cistern Street, Harpers Hill crossroad.
There are many things wrong with this bus stop.
1. It only lists the X81 but the 164 also stops here. It is a different company, but since you only compete as far as Halwell it would be a nice gesture to mention the 164 and where it goes. It would stop travellers desperately searching up and down the road for the stop for the 164. The destination list does not include Harbertonford, which is the largest settlement on the route before Dartmouth.
2. It says “both directions”. If I stand at this stop and hold out my hand as the northbound bus passes the position of the tanker in the picture, will it stop? And will the driver wait patiently as I wait for a pause in the traffic to cross the busy road? Or am I supposed to walk to the traffic lights behind me, then walk up the other side to the bus? If I am a stranger on holiday have I the slightest chance of understanding the information on this bus stop?
3. There is no bus stop sign on the other side of the road. Why not put one there?
4. There are no timetables on the bus stop for either the X81 or the 164.
5. There is no identifier such as ‘Cistern Street’ to help travellers anxious whether this is the right stop to alight. Most of the area of the sign is taken up with unhelpful logos. Bold text should be reserved for useful information for travellers not operators’ slogans.
6. There is no identifier code on the bus stop so one can text with a mobile phone to get the time of the next bus.
So I ask you to imagine yourself a first time foreign visitor to Totnes, without a car. Tour the stops on your routes and ask yourself - is it easy for strangers to navigate the public transport system in the South Hams. If you make the signage understandable you might even sell tickets to visitors presently too confused to dare take the buses.
To emphasise that this is not a uniquely unhelpful stop sign, here is the Harbertonford bus stop with the 164 bus stopped at the X81 (only) marked sign.