Comment - Giving due weight to impacts on setting

The effects of large-scale energy developments on the setting of heritage assets has featured in numerous appeal decisions since February's Court of Appeal ruling in East Northamptonshire and Others v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Barnwell Manor Wind Energy.

The ruling emphasised that, by virtue of section 66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the desirability of preserving the setting of listed buildings should be given "considerable importance and weight" in the planning balance. The issue came under the spotlight in two cases reported this week.

In Norfolk (see Wind farm dismissed over impact on church setting), the secretary of state overruled an inspector's advice to approve plans for three turbines, taking a different view on the weight attributable to their impact on a grade I listed church's setting in a village conservation area. He was concerned that the turning blades of one turbine would intrude on views in one direction from a path to the church porch, even though it was 1.2 kilometres away and would be partly screened by vegetation.

Despite recognising that the harm caused to the significance of the church setting and the conservation area's character and appearance would be less than substantial, he found that these, along with local landscape harm, outweighed the scheme's renewable energy benefits. One novel factor taken into account was that some mourners using the church's burial ground would find the turbines "more than just visually intrusive".

This outcome contrasts with the recent decision (see Turbines allowed despite harm to church setting) to allow three wind turbines in Nottinghamshire on the basis that harm to the setting of a grade I church was outweighed by renewable energy benefits. The secretary of state concluded that harm to the church setting related "predominantly" to views from one direction and was therefore limited.

Another decision from Nottinghamshire (see Biomass plant allowed in listed building setting) has seen plans for a biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant associated with an animal rendering plant approved. The secretary of state accepted that the scheme would result in less than substantial harm to a grade I listed church and a grade II listed grange. Despite attaching considerable importance and weight to this matter, he decided that it was outweighed by the scheme's benefits.

Weighing heavily in this project's favour were its "very substantial contribution" to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and the availability of an identified end user for steam from the plant. Even so, all three cases confirm that assessing the impact on settings involves delicate and subjective site-specific judgements, on which it all too easy for officers, councillors, inspectors and the secretary of state to reach different conclusions.

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