26.04.2013 - Developing an onshore wind farm on Bute - an experiential perspective on policy and planning

Recently we were delighted to be invited to present a paper (2.8MB PDF) to the Sustainable Transitions workshop of the Royal Geographical Society / Institute of British Geographers Planning and Environment Research Group held at the University of Exeter.

The move to a sustainable energy future is thought to be a multi-decadal transition, and if experience of the planning requirements for a cluster of three mid-sized turbines at Ascog Farm is any guide it is clear that the process will indeed be slow moving, politically fraught and beset with concerns primarily about views.

As the workshop notes make clear:

There is general agreement across the political divide that in the face of the important challenges of climate change and energy security, and the myriad associated economic, social, and political issues entwined with these challenges, there is a need to alter the trajectories of current socio-technological development. There is however substantial differentiation in relation to what particular ‘sustainable transitions’ would look like, and what policy frameworks, planning procedures, and political decisions will enable different ‘transitions’ to occur. These are central concerns for the PERG research group. Many different visions of sustainable transitions are discernible in the varied settings of the current policy landscape: in the UK context for example, there appears to be a centralisation of sustainable development policy through planning reforms such as the Planning Act 2008 and the development of National Policy Statement’s (NPS’s) as one example, whereas on the other hand, grassroots, community-led forms of transition such as Transition Towns, offer models based around different Geographical scales, technological choices, forms of public engagement, and actors involved in the transition process. Whilst the household level or more decentralised technological choices such as renewables are vitally important, the context which enables certain innovative developments is often framed nationally – the different technological and political choices pursued by the devolved Scottish government, in comparison to the rest of the UK for example, or indeed the different policy contexts shaped pursued by Germany and the UK, as another. These illustrate the complex and varied moments involved when sustainable transitions are considered, which get beyond one dimensional technocratic solutions. The differing spatialities, technologies, planning procedures, public engagement mechanisms, international, national, regional, and local policy frameworks, political and democratic interventions, and the relations between these moments, are worthy of exploration as the relation between the message of climate science as to the scope of the challenge, and the current policy implementation and decision-making frameworks appear increasingly asymmetrical.

We await with interest the Argyll & Bute Council planners 'handling report' into our proposals for three mid-sized community benefit wind turbines at Ascog Farm.

Let's hope that the desire for clean, green renewable energy generation is not outweighed by the 'asymmetrical' desire to prevent landscape change. No one, as far as we know, is yet making invisible wind turbines...