A CRITIQUE ON THE PROPOSED NAVITUS BAY WIND FARM TO BE LOCATED OFF THE DORSET AND HAMPSHIRE COASTS , MID WAY BETWEEN THE ISLE OF WIGHT AND THE ISLE OF PURBECK IN POOLE BAY FACING BOURNEMOUTH
BY JOHN SOANE BUILT ENVIRONMENT CONSULTANT TO BOURNEMOUTH CIVIC SOCIETY
Eneco Wind UK and EDF Energy are proposing to build an extensive wind farm, provisionally named Navitus Bay, occupying approximately 175 sq. klms, to be situated between 13 and 14 klms off the South Coast of England about 8.9 klms from Durlston Head (Isle of Purbeck ) and 13.9 klms from the Needles (Isle of Wight). Within this area between 136 and 218 wind turbines would be constructed on which, depending on the size of the turbine that is chosen, the maximum blade tip height would vary between 200 and 177 metres.
Whether a smaller number of larger turbines, each producing a greater amount of electricity or whether a larger number of smaller turbines, each producing a lesser amount of electricity, will eventually be built, has yet to be determined.
In respect to the justification for this project, there is a general presumption within scientific and political circles that with the necessity of reducing more traditional, carbon polluting energy sources in the world, there is now a more urgent need to expand renewable energy infrastructures such as wind and wave power by 15% before 2020.
This abrupt confrontation within Poole Bay between advanced twenty first century technology and one of the most famous and iconic representations of British popular culture in the form of Bournemouth is a reminder of the fundamental division in environmental perception regarding the comprehension of the modern industrial/post industrial world that has become apparent since the early Nineteenth Century.
The basic problem has been the sudden need for individuals to reconcile the exceptionally distinctive and seemingly quite alien characteristics of mechanical constructs that have been completely changing the social and economic physiognomy of daily life with long established and widely accepted perceptions of the manmade and natural world that have evolved over centuries.
Gradually it began to be realised that the continuing attrition of this much revered natural order of visuality – that is the gradual attainment of a unique harmony within human settlements in relation to built and unbuilt space – could only be stopped by an essential division of human optical discernment (ultimately followed by finite locational separation) between an imagined perception of “pleasing prospects of rus in urbe” which could more easily be identified with many existing locations and more down to earth reflections upon industrial centres about which more subliminal judgements would apply.
The most important question that now has to be answered is whether or not in spite of the increasing urgency to find seemingly pragmatic solutions to the complicated energy problems of the modern world, does there still exist a sufficient level of aesthetic sensibility amongst a considerable proportion of the population of developed societies to insist upon the continued absolute separation of physical environments – some created for aesthetic contemplation and others aimed solely for supplying the means by which such enjoyment can be sustained.
At stake in Poole Bay is whether the continuing philosophical justification of the idea of Bournemouth – probably one of the foremost examples of the then newly enhanced concept of visual sensibility from the early nineteenth century Romantic Era, is still relevant during the Twenty First Century.
Bournemouth and the Continuing Relevance of the Romantic Gardenesque
The concept that it was possible for an individual both to envisage and appreciate a total landscape that could be made up of different but complementary objects that could be both natural and manmade was first put forward in the late Eighteenth Century in the Theory of the Picturesque by William Gilpin and later further developed by Richard Payne Knight. Consequently as a result of the increasing popularity of a more subjective, quasi-romantic lifestyle, that now infused the up and coming middle classes of the early industrial era, the architect and planner Humphrey Repton evolved a new residential urban form, the Gardenesque, which perfectly encapsulated the essence of the Picturesque for the rising villas of the well-to-do of the early Nineteenth Century.
Repton’s idea was to surround every villa with carefully designed gardens which hemetically related the vegetation to the building and gave the illusion of a totally integrated landscape in miniature. Consequently urban developers were not slow to realize that a virgin coastline flanked by fine scenery was an ideal place to create gardenesque-maritime villa estates where the setting would greatly enhance in the eye of the visitor, the illusion of experiencing the sublime emotions of un-tamed nature writ large while at the same time enjoying all the modern material advantages of contemporary urban life.
It was under such circumstances that Bournemouth was founded in 1810 and had though careful planning and development throughout the following years become, in the words of Thomas Hardy, ‘a fairy place’ by the later Nineteenth Century. By then the main elements of the seaward side of the resort were emerging in the form of relatively low rise residential, hospitality and recreational buildings, which – with the exception of certain high rise constructions dating from the mid Twentieth Century – would nearly always compliment the steep sand cliffs and extensive introduced vegetation to create an integrated urban complex perfectly framed by the gentle scenery of Freshwater Down and the Purbeck Hills.
The turning of Bournemouth from a barren heathland wilderness into an imaginative dream which eventually became an emotional marketable commodity in little over 150 years is an exceptional achievement of visual perception. But the continual enhancement of the prospect of a more enhancing life which is still the main social and economic impetus for the continuing success of Bournemouth today could now be put at risk by the complete inability of the promoters of the Navitus Project to appreciate that it is the potential impact of the wind turbines on the totality of the visual impact of the seafront of Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch which is the key factor in understanding the implications of this venture.
Instead the promoters have introduced an assessment methodology based on varying levels of visual sensibility concerning how intrusive the wind turbines would look from specific viewpoints on the mainland and ranging in intensity of visual impact on a scale from major through major moderate to moderate. According to a prescribed sensitivity matrix, levels of aesthetic sensitivity are based on the visual relationship between finite industrial forms, the wind turbines and the visibility of these objects from certain specific points.
However a considerable proportion of these points are located in rural or undeveloped areas such as the Jurassic Coast and the South Downs National Park. There appears to be an underplaying or inability not only to make meaningful visibility deductions from the seafront at Bournemouth or any objective to assess the possible negative impact of the proposed wind farm on the entire seascape/townscape of the resort area to the north of Poole Bay as a single totality of urban design.
The calculations of the Navitus assessment exercise seem to be focused on trying to prove that the overwhelming impact of around 200 wind turbines will not be quite so prominent from certain rural and undeveloped points as might have be originally thought. The fact that the wind farm will still appear in a most impressive guise in Poole Bay, right opposite Bournemouth seafront, is not something that seems to have been considered especially important.
Seascape and Heritage Characterisation.
The presumed aesthetic value of various seascapes surrounding the proposed site of the Navitus Bay wind farm were assessed in an area up to 35 klms out to sea and 10 klms inland. Generally speaking in line with what has been written above, there was a general bias towards appreciating the visual context of natural regions in comparison with the built up areas along the north side of Poole Bay.
In the poor assessment of the physical environment of the Bournemouth sea front in comparison with more positive attitudes towards the more rural and undeveloped parts of the area, there seemed to be no perception that large scale composite townscape vistas have an environmental value as valid as the simpler structure of country regions. Further there was little or no comprehension of the integrated visuality between the built up character of the north side of Poole Bay with the designated national scientific landscapes either side that frame this garden city conurbation.
Moreover such an observational weakness was further demonstrated by the perception of specific heritage assets by the promoters of Navitus Bay. While it is certainly fair to say that historical heritage assets were seen and assessed in relation to spatial context, all such heritage elements were looked at as individual segments of a wider physical environment. There was no attempt to assess the integrated importance of the heritage assets en-mass within particular urban contexts such as coastal Bournemouth in relation to changed cultural relationships that would become apparent with the installation of the proposed wind farm.
Indeed during the survey where particular historical, cultural or locational values were assigned to heritage assets (buildings/particular landscapes/townscapes ) in order to assess the relationship of these features to the proposed wind farm according to a somewhat nebulous ‘Zone of Theoretical Visibility’, it is highly unlikely that such obtuse exercises in differing virtual values will count for anything against the immovability of nearly 200 wind turbines. In particular the changed aesthetic relationship between the several urban conservation areas along the Bournemouth seafront and the new installations would remain as confrontational as before.
Navitus Bay and Contemporary Tourism in the Vicinity of Poole Bay
Quite apart from the absolute visual/perspectual considerations of the seascape/townscape of the northern edge of Poole Bay in relation to the proposed wind farm, Navitus Bay placed considerable emphasis in ascertaining the attitude of business people connected with the hospitality industries and visitors to the possible physical changes within the maritime scene. This particular research would be of considerable importance in establishing whether or not the founding aesthetic philosophy which underpinned the creation of Bournemouth during the Romantic Era of the early Nineteenth Century was still a relevant consideration in peoples’ minds at the present day.
A total of 2824 businesses responded to the questionnaire and 1520 visitors were interviewed; it was accepted by Navitus that the hospitality industries in Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch were of exceptional importance to the economic structure to the area – there being 664 businesses connected with the tourist/ services sector within Bournemouth which was responsible for 93% of all employment in the town. Moreover Bournemouth welcomed 4.5 million visitors annually of which 53% went there mainly to admire the coastal scenery; however other attractions included extensive conference facilities and the unique atmosphere engendered by open air spectacles such as the International Air Show and the various art festivals.
Of the businesspeople who co-operated in the survey, 54% believed that the coming of the wind farm would have a low effect on their activities. On the other hand, 28% felt that the new installations would have a high to medium adverse impact on future undertakings. It is quite likely that the first group took a relatively short term view of fundamental change, calculating that the increasing number of people orientated, holiday activities that now took place in Bournemouth were likely to make future visitors less interested in the appearance of more distant physical horizons.
The second group emphasised the negative impact of the wind farm on coastal views and also, indirectly on the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. They also objected to the possible night time light pollution and the subsequent negative publicity which could prevent visitors from returning to the resort.
The final tally for the entire Poole Bay urban area was 55% in favour of the wind farm and 36% against.
With these results, can it be reasonably suggested that the difference between these two attitudes is really too small to draw a definite conclusion that the business community in Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch is absolutely certain that the proposed wind farm would be an absolute benefit to the economic structure of the area?
Moreover such conclusions were also reflected in the final analysis of results obtained from the visitor survey. The initial reaction of most visitors (over 80%) was that the construction of the wind farm would not make any difference in their coming to Bournemouth. This result can be put down to the natural curious desire of most people to wish to see new attractions at well know resorts. However when the question was put as to whether the new wind farm would enhance or detract from the long term attractions of the Bournemouth area, positive comments (between 27% and 41%) were more or less balanced by negative attitudes (between 27% and 33%). It may be concluded that with about a third of visitors equally disagreeing about the value of the new installations, it is difficult to deduce that there is an overwhelmingly positive feeling towards these curious structures.
It is easy for Navitus Bay to suggest that people have continued to visit other coastal areas in considerable numbers where wind farms have been installed. What however is forgotten is that every coastal area, just like every town, has a unique Sense of Place, made up of a most complicated number of factors. Some places may be quite suitable for such drastic changes, but most definitely not here in relation to the absolutely uniquely integrative character of the natural/manmade-seascape/townscape of Poole Bay .
In concluding this Critique, a considerable reading of the preliminary environmental submissions by Navitus tends to suggest a marked degree of tautological juggling with the findings – a kind of wishful thinking that in the conclusions – to paraphrase Voltaire’s Candide – every deduction would be interpreted in the best possible way for the best of possible worlds. But the reality of the situation is a long way from this fantasy. The immediate threat to the aesthetic and hospitality attractions of Poole Bay from the proposed wind farm is far too important to appear wise after the event when it will be too late. It would therefore be sheer folly in the extreme to expect future visitors to come to the Bournemouth area if all that awaited them was the isolation of the individual within a jumbled mass of passé mechanistic and perverted aesthetic debris.
Surely it is possible when scientific activity for the future planning of world energy needs has never been taken more seriously to find other sources of energy and also alternate sites for wind power production around Great Britain without seriously compromising the social and visual attributes of a still vibrant cultural entity like Bournemouth that continues to be hugely loved and respected by the British Public.