Turbine ruling sets standard for heritage assets

Applicants could find it tougher to get planning permission for developments near heritage sites, experts have said, after the Appeal Court blocked a wind farm because insufficient consideration had been given to its impact on heritage assets.

National Trust property Lyveden New Bield (pic National Trust)
National Trust property Lyveden New Bield (pic National Trust)

In a ruling earlier this month, the Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision to refuse the Barnwell Manor Wind Farm scheme in Northamptonshire.

Renewables developer West Coast Energy had proposed four turbines on the site, which was in the vicinity of 40 designated heritage assets, including the Grade I National Trust property Lyveden New Bield.

East Northamptonshire District Council, the National Trust and English Heritage had opposed the scheme, but it was granted permission by a planning inspector in March 2012. The inspector had concluded that, while the four turbines would appear as an "alien and incongruous feature in the landscape, especially one with such historic and literary association", the renewable energy benefits of the proposal would outweigh the harm to the setting of the assets, which he deemed "less than substantial".

Following a High Court battle, the case reached the Court of Appeal this month, where top judges described the planning inspector's decision as "fatally flawed". The Court of Appeal cited the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, which says decision-makers should give "considerable importance and weight" to the desirability of preserving the setting of listed buildings when carrying out a balancing exercise in planning matters.

Lord Justice Sullivan said he agreed with the High Court that the inspector did not give "considerable importance and weight" to this factor.

Robin Green, a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers, represented the local authority, English Heritage and National Trust. He said the Court of Appeal ruling was an important decision.

He said: "The Court of Appeal has confirmed that, in considering whether or not to grant planning permission to developments, decision-makers must give considerable weight to any harm caused to a listed building or its setting."

He added: "By drawing attention to the need to give considerable weight to harm to the setting, it will probably have made it harder for some developers to obtain planning permission within the setting of listed buildings than had previously been thought to be the case."

Morag Ellis QC, of Francis Taylor Building, who also represented the council and conservation bodies, added that the judgement could be considered a test case, and its impact will be applicable to any development in the setting of a listed building. She added that the ruling could also lead to more appropriate developments near to heritage sites in the future.

She said that the judgement endorsed the "contextual approach to design", through which developments fit within their context and surroundings. "If you want to put up a new building in a conservation area or in the vicinity of a listed building then you are really going to have to work out very clearly what your design rationale is for it," Ellis added.

Roger Mascall, director of heritage at planning consultancy Turley Associates, said the Court of Appeal decision is likely to affect the number of wind farm sites coming forward. But he added that developers of any sort of scheme near heritage sites will also have to take the considerations "very carefully on board".

He added: "More informed clients and promoters of proposals do programme in heritage assessment and already do take it quite seriously. But I think this judgement is suggesting that everybody really needs to take it quite seriously."

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