ASA’s ruling was welcomed by the newly-formed village group – Back Local Windfarms (BLow) – which claimed VVASP had “caused a great deal of anxiety and distress for no good reason”.
BLow spokesman Lynn Davies a resident of Norton, said: “What they have done is both irresponsible and anti-social. They pretended to be providing residents with information in order to help them make an informed decision, when the truth is they have spread rumours and falsehoods.”
VVASP had claimed that Scottish Power Renewable’s plans to build wind turbines in the Lenchwick area would “change the landscape forever”, that the noise they produced “can cause depression, sleep deprivation, headaches and memory loss” and that “house prices can be reduced by as much as 54 per cent within a one-mile radius of wind farms.”
The ASA studied the claims and ruled this week they were based on poor quality research and selective misrepresentation of sometimes anecdotal evidence. It was ordered the claims must not appear again in their current form.
ScottishPower Renewables revealed the wind power project’s environmental statement was being finalised and the company was looking to submit a planning application for a five wind turbines in the next few weeks.
ASA Adjudication on Vale Villagers Against Scottish Power
A newsletter by a campaign group opposed to a proposed wind farm development included a diagram comparing the size of a wind turbine with the size of local landmarks. Text stated "too Big too Near too Noisy too Costly". Smaller boxed text under the heading "4 reasons why to say NO" stated "FACT The proposed development is of such a scale and size that it will have a huge impact on your community and will change the landscape forever. FACT The constant noise generated by the Industrial Wind Turbines can cause amongst other things depression, sleep deprivation, headaches and memory loss. FACT House prices can be reduced by as much as 54% for properties within a 1 mile radius of a wind farm".
The complainant challenged whether the claims:
1. "the proposed development … will change the landscape forever" was misleading and could be substantiated, because he believed wind turbines had a lifespan of 25 years;
2. "the constant noise generated by Industrial Wind Turbines can cause amongst other things depression, sleep deprivation, headaches and memory loss" was misleading and could be substantiated, and
3. "House prices can be reduced by as much as 54% for properties within a 1 mile radius of wind farms" was misleading, because he believed it misinterpreted the findings of a recent Oxford Brookes/RICS study.
1. Vale Villages Against Scottish Power (VVASP) said it was generally accepted that wind farms had a useful life of about 25 years, but they also pointed out that wind farms were a long-term strategy to produce electricity by stopping the burning of fossil fuels. VVASP said they had visited a number of wind farms throughout the UK, and that at each location the turbines were being replaced by newer, larger turbines, or extended by the addition of more turbines. VVASP said they knew of no location where turbines were being decommissioned and removed, and that to all intents and purposes wind farms were forever.
2. VVASP said the impact of wind turbines on human health had only recently begun to be investigated, but that there was substantial evidence to suggest that human health was adversely affected when wind turbines were built close to homes. They provided a link to a website of an American doctor who had studied the effect of wind turbine noise on human health and written scientific papers on the subject. VVASP also provided a copy of a 2009 paper on sleep disturbance and wind turbine noise, written by the founder of the Leicester Sleep Disorders Service. They said that paper stated that the effect of sleep deprivation could be linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and depression.
3. VVASP said the quote was taken directly from a 2007 joint report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Oxford Brookes University (RICS report). They provided a weblink to that report.
The ASA considered that the claim "the proposed development is of such a scale and size that it … will change the landscape forever" was an absolute claim that implied that the wind farm would effect a permanent change on the landscape. We acknowledged that wind farms were designed to produce energy in the long-term, and that wind turbines could be replaced with newer models at the end of their useful life. We also recognised, however, that the circumstances surrounding each individual wind farm would vary, and that it was also possible that a wind farm might be decommissioned and the land returned to its former use. We noted that we had not seen evidence that demonstrated that the proposed wind farm at Lenchwick would change the landscape forever, and we considered that the claim should therefore have been worded more conditionally. Because it was not we concluded that the claim was misleading.
We considered that the claim "The constant noise generated by Industrial Wind Turbines can cause amongst other things depression, sleep deprivation, headaches and memory loss" implied that there was a direct correlation between wind farms and the symptoms listed. We noted that the short articles by the American doctor outlined the issues relating to wind turbine noise and human health, and reported anecdotal evidence of a negative effect on the health of residents who lived in close proximity to wind farms. We also noted that the 2009 report on sleep disturbance was an unpublished report that described the nature and effects of sleep disturbance, and surveyed both anecdotal reports of, and research into, a causal effect between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance. We understood from the 2009 report that the quality of that research was low, and in particular that there were methodological limitations to the research referred to, such as the very small numbers of respondents, dependence on self-completed questionnaires, no use of a control group, the lack of pre-exposure data and the fact that the research was initiated after the turbines had been operating and in response to complaints. Although we noted the anecdotal reports of sleep disturbance from those who lived near wind farms, we considered that the reported research was not robust enough to support the claim in the ad.
Because we had not seen robust, independent evidence that wind turbine noise caused depression, sleep deprivation, headaches and memory loss, we concluded that the claim was misleading.
We noted that the ad claimed a reduction in house prices of as much as 54% for properties within a one-mile radius of wind farms. We understood, however, that the RICS report found that terraced houses sited within one mile of a wind farm were observed to be 54% lower in value than similar houses sited four miles away, but that a smaller decrease was observed for semi-detached houses, and there was no observed decrease for detached houses. Notwithstanding that, we also noted the report went on to explain that, when the authors talked to local estate agents, the situation became less clear; their view was that "proximity to a wind farm was simply not an issue [and] that the properties close to one of the wind farms … were in fact ex-Ministry of Defence properties, and so less desirable than other similar properties". We noted that the RICS report concluded that their findings required a degree of caution, due to the limited data available regarding the relationship between house prices and proximity to wind farms, and that "a cautious approach should be adopted until a larger and more in-depth study can be undertaken". We therefore considered that the report was not sufficiently robust evidence to support the property price reduction claim made in the ad, and because we also considered that the claim misrepresented the findings of the 2007 RICS report, we concluded that it was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.