This week at the inquiry looking into the two wind farm proposals at each side of Spaldington the issue of noise was discussed at length by the expert witnesses and each cross examined by the others barristers.
The Governments 1997 ETSU Guidance is used as the starting point for the assessment of noise impact, taking the average background noise levels at residences likely to be affected by noise from the wind turbines. This is open to abuse by wind farm developers as it is based on noise levels measured at only a few points around an application site, which can be easily affected by a number of factors. These were clearly identified in the evidence provided by Mr Stigwood representing the STOP campaign team. It is acknowledged by many, including myself and alluded to by David Davis MP that this 1997 government guidance is out-dated and flawed and was put in place a long time before we as a Council were looking at these massive 2 and 3 MW, 126m high turbines. We’ve also heard during the week that this guidance is ‘blind to wind direction’.
It became clear that the Spaldington Common site to the east of the village would have noise issues resulting in the wind farm not being able to operate at its full rated capacity, an issue I raised at the Planning Committee meeting when the application was originally refused.
I listened with interest to Mr Bennett, the expert witness for the Common Site and found serious issues with his credibility. When one considers both applications, the Airfield application to the west was preceded by a large anemometer mast which is still in situ. The Common application has only ever had a very temporary mast, that appeared not to be as high as recommended, was apparently struck by lightning, had a rain gauge that was working - but Mr Bennett was unsure as to what it was actually measuring, a wind vane that became frozen and only recorded wind in one direction, and a wiring fault that appeared to repair itself. Interestingly I did raise the lack of an anemometer mast for the Common site at the Planning Committee stage.
Then we had the sorry saga of the noise monitoring equipment, with stories about Mr Bennett not explaining to residents why the measuring devices were being installed or the criteria being used, and locations initially not even on residents own property and near sources of higher background noise. There is anecdotal evidence that so called ‘farming activities’ had taken place around the noise measuring equipment during the first period of measurement – including constantly working the land in the vicinity of the noise measuring equipment – thereby giving a higher than normal reading. He also intimated that unusually high night time noise at one site may have been caused by residents tampering with his equipment, when in fact it can be explained by the night-time operation of the resident’s sewage treatment plant!
Early in his evidence he quite clearly said, “When the wind is blowing from the east the village will hear the turbines from the Common and when the wind is blowing from the west the village will hear the turbines from the Airfield”.
He also stated that his wind vane evidence “leaves a lot to be desired”.
There is a question of what is reasonable, especially when it comes to the Common site, I have serious doubts regarding the validity of this noise evidence as it is reliant on faulty equipment whose positioning could lead to inadequate or invalid results. This is about the protection of residents from noise if this wind farm is given the go ahead to be built.
Then there is the problem of drafting enforceable planning conditions should both wind farms be consented. The two developers assured us they would cooperate and each be responsible if “their” turbines were downwind and hence appeared to be the source of the noise-nuisance. In principle this seems OK, the Airfield to the west, and the Common to the east – BUT what happens when the wind is from the north or the south? I can see the residents and the Council’s Public Protection department being placed in an intolerable situation, with it being impossible to determine which wind farm is the prime cause of the noise-nuisance, and the nuisance actually being due to the interaction between noise from both wind farms as Spaldington effectively becomes located in the middle of a wind farm.