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Dr. Whitehead: What I attempted to explain, perhaps not as well as I might have done, was that it would not be acceptable to place a huge wind turbine of 50kW on someone's roof because the roof would not support it; it would not be within the permitted development order outline; and it would go above the roof line and outside the building line. A kilowatt or two would be about the limit for the size of a wind turbine to be placed on a person's house. With respect, the right hon. Gentleman's comments are a red herring.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but are we not talking about the possibility
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of installations within the curtilage as well as on the building? I should think that we are then talking about a potential for much larger installations.
Mr. Forth: I am sure that if they were not relevant, Madam Deputy Speaker would see to that. She does not need the hon. Gentleman's assistance. We are discussing the potential in clause 9 for the whole regime to be altered in a way that we cannot predict.
Mr. Forth: I thought from what was said by the promoter and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test that that was the whole pointthey want to see changes made that would remove what they see as the bureaucratic restrictions of existing planning provisions. I believe that the powers available to Ministers in clause 9 could go a lot further than is being suggested.
Mr. Chope: Does my right hon. Friend think that the point being made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), who is a distinguished lawyer, is that this whole clause is effectively a waste of time because there is nothing to stop the Minister now from consulting on a list of permitted development order changes? He does not need this Bill to do that. Why has he not done it in the past two years?
Mr. Forth: We have a difficult choice to make. Either everything is hunky-dory and we do not need the provision, or it is so ineffectual that we do not need to bother with itor anything in between; take your pick.
Another of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Bill from the start is that it is in that dangerous area of gesture legislation or motherhood legislation. It is about making people feel good, especially some of the single-interest groups, which seem to influence so many Members of Parliament these days. Legislation should not be for such purposes: it should be for specific and clearly beneficial purposes. It should not be about making a gesture or making people happy, or pleasing this or that group. I am now being told that all the clause does is say to the Minister, "Do a review, old boy," but if the Minister were to say simply, "I'll do a review, don't worry," we could dispose of the matter very quickly.
The Minister said, "Don't worry, folks, wind turbines in domestic circumstances will be for a kilowatt or two." If I thought that the Minister would table an amendmentsay, when the Bill goes to the Lords, as I
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am sure it willthat would be enormously helpful, but at present we are stuck with only one figure to work withthe famous 50kW in amendment No. 52. Apart from what the Minister said, that is the only guidance that we have had so far.
The Minister went on to talk about "sensible-scale microgeneration", but what is sensible is very much in the eye of the beholder. It is like our good old friend "reasonable". It sounds reassuring, but in the terms of what I believe we are discussing todaypotential intrusion into people's lives, albeit for the best of motivessensible is not good enough.
The dilemma that we face goes to the heart of the Bill. That is why I am so grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) for setting it out, and to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for taking the trouble and deploying his expertise to spell out how he envisages the mechanisms working. However, as my hon. Friends indicated in their interventions, we are entitled to exhibit at least some unease about the process that the Bill invites to take place.
I hope that when we come to Third Reading, we shall have an opportunity to range much more widely over the concept of climate change, the United Kingdom's role in that, and the role of microgeneration within that, so that we can set the Bill in context. That is certainly for Third Reading, not for Report. In that part of the Bill, there is a tension or perhaps a conflict between, on the one hand, the environmentalists' desire to reap the alleged benefits of microgeneration and, on the other, constraints on planning, capacity and so on. If we do not get it right there is a danger that there will be a backlash such as the one against telecommunications masts which, although in a very different way, it was thought would improve modern communications and the quality of life in general.
Under the Bill, we face the prospect that devices such as solar panels would be installed. Little has been said about them, because they would not be intrusive, although I accept that others may take a different view. Other devices that would be installed include wind turbines, about which a great deal has been said, as many people are worried about their visual impact, noisiness and the risk that they pose to health and safety. A more difficult problemI acknowledge that my hon. Friend faced a challenge in trying to use description when illustration would serve much betterarises when we try to envisage what a microgenerating plant, whether it runs on biomass, biofuel, heat and power or fuel cells, would look like or how big it would be. Again, we are taking a great deal on trust, because we have only my hon. Friend's assertion that a domestic wind turbine could have blades up to 6 ft long if it was located on the ground in a back garden rather than on a building. It would therefore be a fairly tall device, but it is difficult to imagine the size of a building or an installation that
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would house the domestic or, more particularly, the community microgeneration plants referred to in the Bill and the amendments.
Such things are unknown and uncertain, and we have been asked to take a great deal on trust. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) naturally says that we should not worry, as the proposals are modest and serve a terribly good cause. The Minister said that a kilowatt or two should be enough, so we should not worry. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is a huge enthusiast for such power, but we have a duty to look at the measure from a different angle on behalf of people who are not environmental enthusiasts. They value their present quality of life and would prefer not to worry about the climate in 50 years' time. They are, however, worried about visual amenity and the effect of the devices on the value of their propertythat has not been mentioned, but it is a valid consideration. All those factors should be taken into consideration.
That is the thrust of amendment No. 13. Instead of saying that we trust the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister and the parliamentary process to make sure that everything is okay in the end, I have attempted to ensure that the Bill includes a mechanism that will reassure people. Despite his mild criticism that I should have used another formulation in preference to "shall have regard to", my hon. Friend accepted that the amendment is a step in the right direction, as it refers deliberately and explicitly to the desirability of
None of the changes and mechanisms in the Bill or the amendments should compromise our highly valued conservation areas, whether they comprise buildings or amenities. Visual amenity, too, is important, not just in rural areas but in many urban areas as well. People value visual amenity, whether they are in their home or garden, or going about their daily business. My hon. Friend said the devices would not just generate daytime noise but intrusive noise at all hours, which should be taken into consideration.
My hon. Friend touched on health and safety. Labour Members made some unnecessarily derisive remarks about that, but we ought to pause and consider the implications of, for example, a wind turbine of considerable size in a back garden, or one of the more exotic generating plants located on the ground inside or outside a building. There must be a distinct safety element to such installations. We all know that existing gas central heating appliances, for example, are rightly subject to severe safety regimes.
With regard to some of the proposed new technologies, some still relatively untried and untested, I am not sure whether we can be comfortable with the thought of them being inside or in the curtilage of domestic premises and running 24 hours a day or on demandwe will come to dynamic demand technologies in the next group of amendments. I wanted an explicit reference to health and safety written into the Bill to provide some reassurance that in our rush to save the planet, we did not ignore such important detailed provisions.
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