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Mr. Evans: I have grave concerns about wind turbines for a number of reasons. In a number of countries where they have proliferated, rare bird species have diminished, because of birds being killed by flying into the turbines. Is my hon. Friend telling the House that there is no opportunity for bodies or individuals who care about rare bird species that may migrate into their areas or pass through them to make representations? Can there be no representations from anyone who is concerned about the placement of wind turbines?
Mr. Chope: I am saying that. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that concern. The clause makes it clear that there is no provision for parliamentary discussion, public debate or consultation on the issue.
Mr. Forth: I can give some reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). If he looks at my amendment No. 70, he will find that I am attempting to provide exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is asking for. Perhaps we should have a vote when the time comes. I think that the House should express its view at some point, as there is far too much cosy consensus breaking out. I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to my amendment, as I do not take sole possession of it.
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I will indeed refer to his amendment, but I thought it would be helpful to try to progress logically and start by debating the lead amendment, which would leave out clause 9 altogether.
One way of summing up clause 9 would be to say that under its provisions the Secretary of State is expressly prohibited from listening to anyone or modifying the outcome of his review in any way. That is rather reminiscent of the Labour slogan articulated by the late Lord Shawcross after old Labour got into office after the war"We are the masters now." The Secretary of State is the master and it is not going to be possible for
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anybody to intervene in any process to say, "Hold on a minuteare you sure this is actually the right thing to do in terms of the environment?"
Mr. Chope: That is the case with some of them, but not all. If my right hon. Friend had read the open debate in the columns of one of the national newspapers within the past 10 days, he would have seen very different positions being taken on the subject by people all of whom would describe themselves as having the best possible environmental credentials. They can agree to disagree, or strongly disagree, with each other on these issues. That is why it is all the more important that there should be provision for somebody other than just the Secretary of State, whoever he happens to be at the time, to get involved in debating whether permitted development orders should be allowed to be used so that these very large generating plants can be constructed without the need for any planning permission or any chance for local involvement in whether they are a good idea.
What size or nature of development could be constructed under a permitted development order under the clause without planning consent? That is the question that several of us are concerned about, and I will try my best to answer it. I know that in due course the promoter of the Bill wants to enter into the debate to give us some assurances. We do not allow permitted development orders to deal with such things as bus stops, bus shelters, street cabinets or even telecomms masts, although we all know from our constituency casework just how controversial those can be. Not long ago, I attended a meeting of the Greater London authority, where no less a person than the Mayor of London answered a question about the location of a bus stop in Richmond. He took the view that he, as the regional authority leader, should be the sole determinant of where that bus stop should be positioned. Under the clause, we would not have that safeguard even for a large microgenerating plant, because it would all be dealt with under permitted development orders. What would our constituents have said in the past, before the health and visual amenity aspects became big issues, if any Government or Secretary of State said, "We think that all these telecomms masts should be put up without the need for any planning permission to be obtained, because it is a jolly good thing that people should be able to communicate by mobile phone"? There would have been an enormous outcry.
I suspect that at the moment people have not woken up to the exact implications of the Bill as regards microgeneration equipment, because they think of it as being on a very small scale. When they do wake up to it, it may be too late, because by then clause 9 will already be on the statute book and the Secretary of State, without anybody being able to constrain him, will have already passed the necessary orders under the permitted
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development process and these developments will be outwith the control of local people and their locally elected representatives.
Mr. Hollobone: I am very supportive of wind power. A new wind farm in Kettering, Burton Wold, is providing electricity for local people. However, it is affecting many local people's television reception. If the Bill succeeds and lots of these wind turbines are put up, people may become concerned about the effects on their environment. It is right that this House should debate these issues now before it is passed into law.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We normally find in terms of legislation that prevention is better than cure. It is no good coming back later to try to amend it, because it will be too late. Some of us have been receiving representations from constituents who are concerned about the contents of some recent legislation, and we are having to say to them that it is too late to do anything about it because it has already gone through. We should anticipate the concerns that will arise. I like to think that all Members, particularly those of us who attend on Fridays, are closely in touch with their constituents' concerns.
People are worried about how big these structures would be. According to the article in The Daily Telegraph of 13 March, the wind turbine that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is seeking to fit to his house has translucent rotor blades that are 1.1m in diameter, and it will generate just 400W of electricity. The same newspaper report referred to the Minister's house in Croydon being fitted out with a 1 kW turbine
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are discussing the amendment, which is about permitted development orders. We have already heard about the developments involving the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister.
Mr. Chope: If clause 9 remains in the Bill, under a permitted development order it will be possible for all these pieces of generating equipment, whether they belong to a Member of this House or somebody outside, to be constructed without the need for any planning permission. That is why I was about to mention the dimensions of the turbine which, according to the press report, will be placed on the Minister's premises.
The Minister is shaking his head before he has even heard what I am going to say. The article said that it will have blades that are 1.75m in diameter. In the old-fashioned language of the metric martyrs, that is about 5 ft 9 in. That is a fairly significant size. However, that is a very small capacity turbine compared with the maximum 50kW capacity that is permitted under the Bill. Under clause 9, microgeneration as defined in the Government amendment to the Energy Act 2004 could have a capacity to generate 50kW. If the Minister were to table an amendment to redefine it as relating to a maximum capacity of 1kW, that might allay many concerns. However, clause 9, coupled with the provisions about the maximum capacity being 50kW, will put our constituents in grave jeopardy and cause them enormous anxiety.
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Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): My hon. Friend has framed this important argument excellently. However, is not he guilty of presuming too much about the review's outcome? Having listened to him carefully, I have heard a solid case for improving the clause through the process that underpins the review, but I have not yet heard a case for removing the clause, which is the purpose of the amendment. Will he make that case?
Mr. Chope: I am making the case. If the clause was not part of the Bill, putting microgenerating plant in one's garden or attaching it to one's house would be a matter for planning and subject to the usual planning laws. In that case, one would make an application, fill in a form, pay a fee to the local authority and discuss it with the local planning authority, which in due course would develop a policy in its local plan process. That might cover the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) made about whether we should have many individual pieces of generating plant or whether one larger piece of community generating plant would be preferable. The planning process could deal with all those issues. If individuals wanted to install many pieces of plant, councillors could end up discussing the applications. They could ask questions, such as that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about the implications for bird strike, the butterfly population and so on. However, if the clause remains in the Bill, none of those opportunities would arise. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) is in an urban area, where proper protection under planning laws is even more crucial, because people live close to each other.
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