In recent months we have been asked more and more frequently to carry out brief desk-based feasibility assessments of small and medium scale renewable energy developments. The main purpose of these exercises is to quickly and economically establish whether there are any sensitive receptors or other aspects of a development that could limit the likelihood of the scheme gaining planning consent in a timely manner. The idea is to help our clients to rationalise their investment by identifying potentially difficult schemes early on. The desk based assessment helps to pinpoint environmental issues that could constrain development or necessitate investment on more in-depth consultancy work that might not be cost effective to the overall scheme.
These desk-based feasibility studies also help to fine-tune a design to find the most realistic development options for a particular site (or sometimes the best site for a particular development) and to inform the scope of more detailed assessment work required to support a planning application.
We have developed a palette of products that can be tailored to the developer’s requirements, which are summarised below. All can be delivered quickly and cost effectively. If we can be of any assistance with any of these, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
As a first step, we undertake a review of the development site, or a range of potential sites, to identify key environmental issues and likely impacts of development. We also have an informal discussion with the relevant planning officers, and advise on the need for EIA.
From this outline review we produce a brief report which highlights the issues that are material to the development, including planning policies, key environmental sensitivities, potential environmental impacts, landscape and ecological comments, the scope of the planning application and any additional work or technical assessments that will be required to inform the application. In essence, the review highlights potential development and programme risk and helps to inform site selection and prioritisation of delivery.
Ecological feasibility appraisals use a variety of data sources to provide an initial overview of potential constraints associated with any given site. These sources may include OS mapping, aerial photography, GIS datasets, the NBN Gateway and species distribution atlases. The aim of the initial appraisal is to identify any ‘show stopping’ constraints and, if possible, to give some indication of the level of further site survey work required to inform a planning application.
Landscape and Visual Studies
The landscape feasibility study confirms environmental designations, ranging from landscape scale AONBs to individual Listed Buildings, and Registered Historic Landscapes to Scheduled Monuments and Open Access Land. Analysis of Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps, Google Earth and Street View helps us to understand the lie of the land, the nature of land cover and the visual environment. We also carry out a thorough review of landscape related local planning policy and review the current Local Landscape Character Assessment information to gauge the sensitivity of the landscape character.
Shadow Flicker Assessment
We use specialist software to create a terrain based 3D model of a proposed wind turbine development and can carry out accurate industry standard assessments for shadow flicker impacts on surrounding properties. This gives an indication of the risk of shadow flicker to nearby properties, and whether there is need for detailed studies to inform a planning application.
Zone of Theoretical Visibility (ZTV)
The same software generates a terrain based ZTV covering any radius required, although we normally recommend using a 15 to 20 km distance. The output is a simple A3 graphic showing areas from which the proposed development might be visible. Variations of output can include overlays of development options, inclusion of urban built form or large woodland blocks entered manually into the model.
Cumulative Impact Assessment
This is a brief stand-alone study of the potential for in-combination effects of a proposed development in the landscape when viewed with other similar developments. This approach is particularly useful for proposed wind turbine schemes in areas where development pressure on landscape character is nearing capacity, such as parts of Cornwall and the Pennines.
Creation of accurate photomontages are not normally part of the preliminary assessment because they do require a site visit to take verified photographs at the correct focal length, from the right location and subsequent time for stitching into panoramas. They are, however, a great tool for accurately predicting presence or absence of visual impacts on any particularly sensitive receptors. Photomontages are normally presented as ‘before and after’ images with view descriptions and technical data provided on the same graphic. Recent comparisons of our photomontage work with the built reality have confirmed that a high level of accuracy is achieved from this work.