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Lancaster City Council Planning and Highways Regulatory Committee has refused the university’s application to build two wind turbines on its Hazelrigg site, to the east of the M6 motorway. The committee made its decision based on the site’s close proximity to nearby residential and business properties.
In an immediate statement on the decision, Lancaster’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings said: “We are very disappointed by this decision. The wind turbines have been designed to play a major role in reducing the University’s reliance on electricity from the national grid and helping us address the global threat of climate change, as well as oil and gas depletion.
“We have taken very seriously any impact the project might have on the local area and environment, with the turbines we’re proposing using the very latest technology available and we have also engaged in an extensive public consultation exercise throughout the planning process,” he added.
In an interview with BBC Radio Lancashire, LUSU President Michael Payne said: “Industry experts are saying in 2017 that there will be outages if we don’t take load off the National Grid. And I think this has shown that the council has no foresight. They’re thinking about today and not planning about tomorrow.”
The University was now considering appealing against the decision.
Payne was one of the speakers at the committee meeting, representing Lancaster University students. In his speech, he said: “It is true that this development may cause controversy. But today we must not turn our back on the opportunity to invest in our future. I realised and accept that development such as this caused objections but objections should never be an absolute barrier to progress.”
The committee, which met on Monday of Week Five, received strong opposition from local residents. Speakers who raised objections to the proposed wind turbines were largely concerned by the possible noise disturbance and damage to biodiversity in the area as well as how the structures may have blocked their view.
Betty Parkinson, whose house is the nearest to the proposed development site, told the committee that “attention was paid to flora and fauna but no consideration seems to have been given to the lives of 45 people, two businesses and 15 horses who live [nearby the site].”
At the meeting, it was revealed that the Environment Agency raised an objection on the basis of loss of natural wildlife habitat. The city council’s landscape officer also objected to the proposal, claiming the scale of the project would “overwhelm the topography” of the area.
However, in his presentation the planning officer highlighted that based on a study conducted by an independent consultant the noise from the wind turbine would not exceed the level of noise from the nearby motorway. This assessment was supported by the council’s Environmental Health department. The university’s biodiversity mitigation plan was deemed to be sufficient and would not cause significant damage to the environment.
The city council received 287 letters of objection and 232 letters of support. After a debate, 13 committee members supported the motion to refuse the application whilst three voted against. There were no abstentions. The committee also recognised the lack of national standard on the minimum distance between power-generating wind turbine and residential area.
Rachel McCarthy of the People and Planet Society, who started a Facebook group to raise support for the wind turbines development, told SCAN: “I am certainly not alone in the huge disappointment. […] Thousands of students and local residents in Lancaster understand the serious implications of climate change, and how the [wind power] would reduce our carbon footprints significantly.
“We all need to keep the momentum in order to make positive steps towards a greener, low-carbon future,” she added.
Public consultation was held last December to gather feedback from the local community. The planning application was submitted to the city council in January.
The proposed £7.4-million wind turbines project, which was planned to begin construction later this year, was part of the University’s strategy on “institutional sustainability”. The wind turbines would be able to cover one third of the university’s electricity consumption. Should the project be approved, Lancaster University would be the first university in the England with such an installation.
The project would have been funded by a repayable grant of £5 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Transformational Fund as well as the university’s own budget through major savings on electricity bills. It was hoped the wind turbines would achieve a seven-year payback.