Feasibility and planning

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Citizen engagement is a key activity when assessing the feasibility of your project and submitting a planning application. During these stages, not only is engagement about consulting the community, keeping them informed and generating support, but also about dealing with sensitive matters – knowing when the time is right to release information, and taking care to engage with opposition groups. Considerations highlighted in the Community-Led Wind Power action pack include:

Feasibility. During the early stages of the project, it is important to be clear about the intentions of the group, its aspirations and ethics. At the same time it is important not to undermine the group’s position with the landlord or the planning authority. Public meetings are not necessarily a good idea when details are unknown. Possible actions include:

  • Personally meet opinion formers
  • Recruit a strong support group
  • Keep communication honest and simple
  • Some things will have to be kept within a small group – explain why if necessary
  • Project website and social media set up
  • Article in local parish magazine explaining exploratory work
  • Start building mailing list

Planning. When the planning application is ready to go in, this will be the best time to go fully public with site details, for both planning and engagement purposes. Some subgroups may need to ‘soft launch’ to their wider group before this. A public meeting will be needed to show that proper public consultations have been undertaken. More importantly, this is the chance to start really connecting the community to ‘its’ project: these are the people who will live near the site and who are likely to be most involved and affected. Public meetings can be hard work – for more potentially controversial projects, such as wind power developments, quite often people will be very worried about what it means for them, worries which are frequently stoked by inaccurate or misleading campaigns by objectors. A lot of this comes down to your group – make sure you seek support from people who have done this before, and that there are a lot of you trained up and ready to answer questions. When the application is in you then need to work hard to convert your support into actual letters in support of the application. Possible actions include:

  • Public exhibitions
  • Press releases
  • Online campaign and word of mouth
  • Ask supporters to lobby committee members and write letters of support
  • Attend local events
  • Listen to local concerns and address them wherever possible
Case Studies
Country: France

Plaine Sud Energies’ feasibility study for the installation of solar panels was led by the regional association for the development of solidarity economy (ARDES), assigned by the municipality communities to implement the project. The communication around the project amongst citizens first started after the feasibility phase. The reason for this was that it seemed more relevant and efficient to mobilise citizens with concrete information: what buildings would be involved, what was the estimated budget, etc. For the project leaders, it seemed unwise to mobilise citizens until the project had proved its technical and financial feasibility and viability. However, through the created association, citizens were quickly involved in the first decisions: they chose the installer and approved the selected buildings to implement the project.

Country: UK

Sustainable Charlbury recognised that letters of support would be important in helping to ensure the success of the planning application for their community owned solar farm. They appealed to their supporters via their mailing list to write letters to their local planning authority. However, they were wary that lots of identical letters would not be as helpful as different letters with a variety of points, so rather than setting out the points for people to make, they invited people to use their own ideas, and circulated a link to the Community Engagement Report which they submitted with their planning application for inspiration. They made the process easier for people by setting out who and where letters should be addressed to, as well as the planning reference number to quote.

Country: UK

Gamlingay Community Turbine took great care to respond to any opposition to their community turbine project. From their experience, they recommend that responses should always be polite and respectful, but also robust. Questions should be answered promptly, and a website to give information and receive questions is very useful. For example, one objector wrote a letter in the local paper incorrectly saying that a report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors had shown house prices were significantly reduced by wind farms. Their response was to quote the report’s conclusion precisely word for word and put a link on their website encouraging people to check for themselves.  Similarly a poster was put up at a viewpoint saying the view would be spoiled. Their response was another poster adjacent to it with a picture of a thumb at arms length with the turbine drawn next to it to scale, once again letting people judge for themselves. The caption ‘thumbs up for the wind turbine’ hopefully helped lighten things up.

Country: UK

Kemp's Hill Wind Co-op adopted the strategy of getting as much information as possible to the local community from the outset in order to understand local public opinion. When the planning reference number was known, an A4 page information brochure was sent out to the closest 400 houses within a 4 mile radius of the site to explain how a co-op works, what it is and how it can benefit the local economy. It also showed photomontage viewpoints of the proposed wind turbine. They sent personal invitations to residents near to the site, as well as to local councillors, when organising their public exhibition. Their public exhibition involved displays of viewpoints of the turbine and provided details about the co-op. They had a comment box at the event for people to respond to a brief survey of public opinion. Following the exhibition, the 13 display boards were put online to give more people a chance to view the information. They also specifically sought to engage individuals and groups who may oppose their project by contacting a nearby anti-wind turbine group to ask their opinion about a community owned wind turbine, and to ask for their recommendations. The group recommended good community communication and keeping people informed, and suggested that offering meaningful community benefit could have a positive effect. In particular, they proposed calling a near-neighbour meeting to explain plans and consider any feedback and suggestions.

Country: UK

Gamlingay Community Turbine found that it was absolutely vital that public consultation started well ahead of the planning application for their community wind turbine, otherwise it would appear that the details of the project were already fixed and the consultation was simply a formality. They found the timing of ‘going public’ a difficult decision. Too soon and you will appear ill-prepared and unable to answer questions, too late and your plans will be leaked prematurely and there is a risk you will be accused of secrecy. In practice there is a lot that can be done to assess the viability of a wind energy project with little expenditure. The Civil Aviation Authority and Ofcom are very helpful regarding aviation and microwave links and basic wind resource and noise assessments can be done using data from the internet. They decided to go public when they had checked the obvious potential ‘show stoppers’, with the exception of wildlife issues. They had been advised that a ‘bat survey’ would be needed, but were able to tell people at their meetings that this was underway. They also took care to ensure that no one was left out of their engagement. It looks, and is, very bad if a key stakeholder, such as the owner of a nearby property, learns about the project second hand. They found delivering leaflets to be a good way of making sure everyone in the appropriate area is informed in good time. Gamlingay used a map of the village to make sure every household was leafleted and a few volunteers got this done in a couple of days. To be sure, they also knocked on a couple of doors of nearby properties to ensure they were informed and to head off any impression of being anonymous. Key stakeholders such as the Parish Council and local aerodromes were notified at the same time.