The Research

Against the backdrop of climate change, geopolitical instability and increasing vulnerability of existing energy resources, the need to increase the proportion of UK energy generated from renewable sources is well understood. The Government has established a commitment to increase renewables by 10% by 2010 and 20% by 2020 (e.g. DTI 2003a). However, despite the richness of its resources such as wind and tidal power, the UK still lags other European nations in the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources (Environment Audit Committee 2002). Although the Government has also established a number of mechanisms to ensure that these commitments can be met in full, including the renewables obligation it does recognise that barriers remain in the form of fiscal arrangements, distribution networks and the planning system (Cabinet Office 2003). This latter issue is a particularly relevant in relation to wind power where one of the key obstacles appears not to be technological or even economic, but primarily socio-political in the form of local concerns and the failure of planning to reconcile these concerns with the national and global public interest (e.g. DTI 2003a, Cabinet Office 2003, Douglas and Saluja 1995, Beddoe and Chamberlin 2003, Kellet 2004). Indeed as the UK faces heightened energy concerns related to security and sustainability, it appears that opposition to windfarms grow more vociferous and nationally organised (e.g. Vidal, 2004, see also http://www.geocities.com/nigbarnes/, http://www.countryguardian.net/).

There are now attempts to clarify the policy context for regulating the impact of wind turbines (e.g. OPDM 2003, Welsh Office, 1996, Scottish Executive, 2002), although these do not directly confront the root issue of the public acceptance of renewable energy projects, which remains one of the key policy issues to be addressed (Toke 2002). While there appears to be some recognition of the need for a low carbon economy, this is not being translated into positive support for specific renewable energy projects, leading to local opposition to development proposals. One response to this has been to discount objections as simply expressions of NIMBYism (e.g. Burall 2002), implying that they lack legitimacy and act contrary to the broader public interest. However, there is also wider literature that warns against the dismissal of such views in the recognition that they are often an expression of deeper conflicts or represent fundamentally different rationalities of understanding related to development and the environment (e.g. Burningham 2000, Kemp 1990, Lake 1993, Ellis 2004). This suggests that opposition to renewable energy proposals such as windfarms may be an expression of a more complex outlook that could be seen as inter alia, differing perceptions of the environment, risk, aesthetics and/or property rights (e.g. Burningham and Thrush 2001, Wolsink 1994, McAvoy 1999). A number of competing discourses can be identified in relation to windfarm development, such as environmental impacts (aesthetic vs. ecosystem) and spatial concerns (local vs. global). It also highlights competing conceptions of economic development and sustainability (jobs vs. environmental protection, the traditional economy vs. the high-technology, ‘new’ economy) and fairness of regulatory procedures (developer privilege vs. democratic planning). In some contexts, windfarm proposals can also accentuate tensions around perceived boundaries of community membership (i.e. support from local beneficiaries of wind power schemes vs. opposition from second homeowners). Although there has been some academic attempt to understand opposition to wind turbines (e.g. Alvarez-Farizo and Hanley 2002, Hull 1995, Krohn and Damborg 1999, Elliot, 1994) and growing evidence from attitudinal surveys (e.g. DTI 2003b, RSPB, 2001, Braunholtz, 2003), it appears that there has not been no deeper, more qualitative research that could uncover the complexity and variety of factors that may inform the discourses of objection. Qualitative research has been shown to be a valid, insightful and appropriate approach to understanding environmental values and locational conflict (e.g. Burgess, et al. 1988, Burningham 1998, Addams and Proops 2000, Rydin, 2003, Myerson and Rydin, 1996).

The need to understand the complexity of objections is of particular significance when set in the context of the increasingly dominant paradigm for land use regulation, ‘Collaborative Planning’, based on Habermasian concepts of communicative rationality (e.g. Forester 1999, Healey 1997, 2003). This suggests a more effective and fairer approach to spatial planning can be achieved by drawing in all stakeholders into a more discursive approach to policy-making aimed at achieving consensus between all parties. Although this approach is increasingly being reflected in planning practice and is informing attempts at seeking mediated resolutions in the environmental and locational conflict (e.g. Stubbs 1996, Welbank et al 1998), there is now a growing body of academic thought that suggests that the collaborative approach inadequately reflects the distribution of power and the ‘real’ political context of planning (e.g. Tewdwr-Jones and Allmendinger, 1998, Flyvbjerg, 1998). Indeed the recognition of the ever presence of conflict and the irreconcilability of views may offer a more effective perspective in thinking about how planning debate can be can result in settlement, rather than striving for the more utopian resolution (Rubin, 1998). There is therefore increasing interest in the possibilities of agonistic pluralism (Mouffe, 1999) in planning (e.g. Hillier 2002, 2003, Pløger, 2004) thus aiming for “the constructive mobilisation of differences towards promotion of democratic decisions which are partly consensual but which also accept unresolvable disagreements” (Hillier, 2000, p. 52) . There appears to be some potential in seeking to transform antagonism into agonism, although there is a lack of understanding of how this can be translated in the case of real planning debates. It is proposed here that disputes over windfarms represent an opportunity to explore the possibilities agonistic pluralism and to do so one has to begin with a deeper understanding of the discourses of objection to windfarm proposals. Given the given the tendency to dismiss opposition as NIMBYism on the one hand and frustration that objectors fail to engage with broader issues of sustainability on the other, it is suggested such research may provide a fertile basis for discursive engagement with the decision-making process and contribute transforming ‘enemies’ into ‘adversaries’ (Mouffe, 1999). Indeed, the current tendency to categorise public attitudes along a static and one-dimensional ‘support-opposition’ continuum may be both misleading and overlook the potential muting of conflict through deliberation. It should also be noted that there is evidence to suggest that pre-development opposition to wind turbines in some instances can evolve into post-development indifference (Braunholtz, 2003), indicating that some of these attitudes are not necessary deeply dogmatic.

This research project proposes to explore these issues in the context of Northern Ireland. A number of factors make this particularly appropriate. First is that the region has been identified as having some of the greatest potential in the UK for wind energy (e.g. Royle et al, 1994) and high public support for renewable energy (DTI 2003b). Parallel to this, the region has a low level of environmental awareness and where public policy is seen to be among the most environmentally regressive (Macrory 2004). There have also been criticisms of the region’s planning system for its unaccountable nature and its effectiveness in regulating development (e.g. National Trust Planning Commission 2004, NI Affairs Committee 1996). It is also notable that the environment, planning and energy policy frameworks are less developed in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK. These factors produce a fascinating backdrop for a case study of an ongoing controversy over a proposed offshore windfarm comprising of 85 turbines, off the North Antrim coast, called the Tunes Plateau . As the largest windfarm proposal in Northern Ireland, the project has quickly generated a high level of opposition, not only from local residents and special interest groups, but also the local council, which has taken the unprecedented step of launching a high profile campaign against the proposal. It is therefore proposed that this will form an enlightening case study, which not only explores the theoretical basis of agonism, but also brings into focus a number of difficulties for the implementation and public acceptance of wind energy policy.

As explained below, the case study will be evaluated through engagement with a range of stakeholders, with the aim of generating more mutual understanding of interests via a number of techniques, including rhetorical analysis, Q-methodology and focus groups. These will have two key outcomes. The first is a sophisticated analysis of public, developer and state discourses related to development of renewable energy. The second, an evaluation of the potential use of the concept of agonistic pluralism to improve the delivery of planning policy.

 

Detailed research questions to be addressed

• What are the key issues that emerge from existing attitudinal research on wind farm development?
• Who are the key stakeholders in debates over windfarm developments and how are they organised into networks and alliances?
• What are the discursive strategies, flows of communication and types of resources deployed by key actors in their attempts to influence the decision-making process in relation to windfarm development?
• How do the main stakeholders articulate their position on windfarm development, what are the key issues, dynamics and internal variations in such discourses?
• What do these discourses say about potential areas of consensus and conflict between various stakeholder groups and how could they be used to reach a “settlement” in planning debate?
• Does an understanding of the discourses of objection in the context of agonistic pluralism suggest any institutional or policy reform for the regulation of windfarm proposals and land use regulation in general?

A number of attitudinal surveys have been reviewed and considered inadequate because of their inability to evaluate the richness of the discourses of objectors and supporters of wind turbine development. This includes academic research on windfarm opposition (for example Alvarez-Farizo and Hanley 2002, Hull 1995, Krohn and Damborg 1999, Elliot, 1994) and surveys undertaken by government, developers and interest groups (e.g. DTI 2003b, Braunholtz, 2003, RSPB 2001). The research project will involve a comprehensive review of all attitudinal research related to windfarms and develop a comparative analysis of their findings. While existing research provides an understanding of the expressed opinions regarding windfarm development, they do not explore the nature of strongly held views nor the internal structure (i.e. potential contradictions and consistencies) of the arguments made for and against windfarm development. Thus, there is a gap in terms of the development of deeper, more qualitative analyses of the discourses involved in debates surrounding windfarm development.

Data to be collected

• A rhetorical analysis (see below) of material produced from four key sources:

- Policy documents produced by government and regulatory agencies dealing with windfarm development.
- Promotional material issued by developers and supporters of windfarm proposals.
- Campaign material developed by those opposed to windfarm development.
- Local and national media reports relating to windfarm development.

It is intended to develop a range of examples of the discourses employed in this debate and it is difficult to predict how many documents will be subject to such analysis without prior evaluation of their length and substance. An initial estimate is that 3 key documents from each of the above categories will be analysed.

• A stakeholder and network map of the dispute over the Tunes Plateau (see Bryson and Crosby 1992, Hillier 2000).

• The Q-Methodology stage of the research (see below) will aim to undertake 60 interviews and Q-sorts of stakeholders involved with the Tunes Plateau scheme. This may appear to be a relatively small number of participants for a quantitative analysis, but one of the key characteristics of Q-methodology is that it does not need a large sample to produce statistically significant findings. This is underpinned by that fact that the findings of the Q-method are never claimed to by statistically representative of all populations (e.g. all wind farm objectors), but is an intensive analysis of a relatively small population – or more accurately, an intensive analysis of the discourses and attitudes of a small population and as such, provides sophisticated insights into the attitudes related to specific phenomena. It is envisaged that representatives of the following organisations, in addition to identified individuals will be invited to participate in this part of the research:

- Proposers of the Tunes Plateau development.
- General windfarm interests, such as the British Wind Energy Association.
- Key environmental NGOs such as Friends of the Earth, WWF and RSPB
- Local authority’s.
- Residents, local businesses and opposition groups, including COASTSOS (local anti-wind farm group) and local representatives of Countryside Guardian.
- Political Parties.

• A selection from the above list will also be invited to take part in a series of focus groups, which will be used to collect data (for further discourse analysis) on the interaction of competing discourses and the potential for conflict resolution through dialogue.

Ethical considerations

All research conducted as part of this project will abide by the Queen’s University Code of Good Conduct in Research available at  Particular attention will be paid to ensuring all participants are aware of the purposes of the research, which will be provided to them in a written statement before any involvement occurs and they will be asked to sign a declaration indicating they understand and agree to the terms of their involvement. Any information divulged during interviews and other discussions will remain confidential and will only be used anonymously in a way that is unattributable to any individual. The exception to this will be statements made during the focus groups – in these circumstances all participants will be asked to abide by Chatham House rules and any quotations used in subsequent publications will not be attributable.

Given the potential sensitivity of information and views of participants during what may become an acrimonious environmental dispute, the researchers will at all times remain independent and impartial to all sides of the debate

Framework and Methods for Analysis

The main framework of the research will be discourse analysis, which assumes that discourses represent multiple and competing sets of ideas and concepts that are produced, reproduced and transformed in everyday practices and through which the material and social world is given meaning. Discourse analysis can provide powerful tools for understanding what goes on in planning debate and can be extremely effective in questioning the things we take for granted (Richardson 2002, Hastings 1999, Barry and Proops 2000). For the purposes of this research, discourse analysis will be approached in three complementary approaches:

• The initial analysis of printed documents (policy papers, campaign leaflets, promotional material etc) will be undertaken using a qualitative rhetorical analysis (see for example Rydin, 2003, Myerson and Rydin 1996, Majone, 1989). This recognises that such documents are an expression of persuasion and argumentation, through which the originator attempts to convince others of their view of wind farms using all the linguistic resources at hand. Close reading of these texts can reveal the devices (e.g. ethos, pathos and logos) used by the originator to persuade the listener and thus clarify the rationality being employed. The analysis will be presented in figurative form, using selective quotes and identifying the lines of argumentation and rhetoric.

• The second approach to be used in this study will be a more quantitative approach to discourse analysis, Q-methodology. This is essentially a scientific approach to the study of human subjectivity, representing an attempt to combine the qualitative study of attitudes with the statistical rigour of quantitative research techniques (Brown, et al. 1999, McKeown and Thomas 1988, Addams and Proops, 2002). This technique has been used successfully in studies of environmental politics (Barry and Proops 2000) and in assessing discourses of objection (Ellis, 2004). It has also proved to be particularly suited to analyses of environmental policy in context of conflicts and disagreement (Barry and Proops, 1999, van Eeten, 2000). The strengths of the approach are identified by Dryzek and Berejikan (1993) as being "explicit, publicly constrained by statistical results, and replicable in its reconstructions and measurement of subjects' orientations, thus affording less interpretative latitude to the analyst." (p.50).

In the case of this research project it is proposed that the key areas of discourse will be identified in the earlier rhetorical analysis and that a series of initial interviews with key stakeholders will allow the identification of statements that illustrate key aspects of the various discourses. Statements are drawn from the participants themselves, so that they focus the research issues, rather than the researchers. 50 Statements will then be selected using a matrix as suggested by Dryzek and Berejikan (1993). A series of interviews will then be undertaken with approximately 60 stakeholders (30 objectors and 30 protagonists) during which they will be asked to rank the statements in a structured way to provide a Q-sort, effectively modelling each individual's point of view. These Q-sorts will then be subject to a statistical analysis of the rankings using PQMethod software .This calculates a correlation matrix for the responses using Principal Components Analysis and then rotates the factors using varimax to simplify the factors for interpretation. This factor analysis facilitates the extraction of a few "typical" Q-sorts, which represent distinct collective understandings of an issue, in this case wind farm development. These typical Q-sorts will then be interpreted and explained in terms of commonly shared attitudes or discourses.

• Finally, selected stakeholders will take part in a number of focus groups composed of a mixture of both objectors and protagonists. The discussion will be facilitated with the aim of exposing each side to the other point of view and gently developing a dialogue between the differing sides of the argument. The discourses expressed at the focus groups will be transcribed for later examination using rhetoric analysis as described above. During the later stages of the focus group individuals will specifically asked to discuss the benefits of dialogue and following the discussion, participants will evaluate the session against a pre-prepare questionnaire.

 

Expected outputs

The research proposal has been designed in discussion with a number of key stakeholders involved in renewable energy development in Northern Ireland and therefore is closely related to generating outputs that have both academic and practical utility. These include:

• Final report to be submitted the ESRC Regard web-site addressing the research questions outlined above.

• 3 academic papers, initially to be given at leading conferences (2 UK and one international) and then submitted to 5* peer reviewed periodicals. One paper will be aimed at the planning academic community (e.g. ‘UK Planning Research’ conference 2006), one at political scientists (the ‘Environmental Politics’ specialist group of the Political Studies Association Annual Conference) and the third will be written for an inter-disciplinary academic community (UNESCO Conference on Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environmental Systems or 3rd International Conference on Sustainable Planning and Development). The findings may additionally be combined with previous and ongoing research by Ellis and Barry to provide further outputs in the form of journal articles and book chapters.

• The review of academic literature and existing attitudinal research undertaken as the first part of the research will be written up as a discrete report and made available to interested parties. Action Renewables have expressed particular interest in this output and may consider publishing it on their website.

• A stakeholder and network map of the dispute over the Tunes Plateau (cf. Hull 1995 and Hillier 2000).

• It is hoped that the final research findings will lead to practice-orientated recommendations relating to policy process and communication. These will be subject to a number of seminars and a specific report will be produced for these. Depending on the nature of the findings, this may take the form of a good practice guide for communication and participation in wind farm development