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Windfarm Wars – episode 1  

Author:  | Aesthetics, England, Human rights, Impacts, Noise, Property values, Siting, Videos

Transcript of Windfarm Wars, episode 1 (of 4), BBC2:

Isn’t that wonderful? A fantastic play of light and shade, isn’t there?

Devon, for many, a place to find peace and solitude.

For others, like the Tucker family, it’s been a working landscape for generations. The Tuckers’ farm lies about 4.5 miles from the northern edge of the protected landscape of Dartmoor National Park. Seven years ago, in 2004, a renewable energy company approached Martin Tucker about building part of a wind farm on his land.

Business opportunities coming along to diversify, you know, we’re going to grab it with both hands.

And then you go over the hill…

The Project Manager is Rachel Ruffle of developers Renewable Energy Systems, or RES.

The Den Brook Wind Farm with its ten 100-metre-high turbines will be built in a shallow valley that’s part of Martin’s farm.

The genuine, local people that would know us, are for it. But the trouble is that the ones who are for it won’t say nothing about it. The ones who are against it always got a lot to say.

This is the story of what happens when the attempt to build a wind farm turns into an epic seven-year battle.

Bloody Nora! Can you believe it?

They’re a lot of nimbies in my opinion.

So, who’d like one of these in their garden?

They trespassed as well, they trespassed at The Piles as well.

They’ve had a right old go at this, obviously done with wire cutters.

It’s a story of one woman’s dream…

I don’t want people against it. I want everyone to love wind farms and there not to be protesters.

…and what happens when that dream falls apart.

I’ve got to get my act together. I’ve got to go and pick up the kids in a minute.

It’s the biggest dilemma of the modern world. We’ve serious global warming issues going on. And if we don’t do something about it, we are going to leave a dreadful legacy for the next generation.

They’re nicking our tranquillity. Their stealing it, it’s highway robbery.

It leads to two public enquiries and a damaging and costly confrontation at the High Court.

I’m sorry, this, it gets me badly, this.

There’s 3,000 years of continuous human settlement in that valley and, after which, it is as beautiful as it is today.

This is how our battle for the future of the planet is played out in one Devon valley.

We’re having lamb chops from Barry the butcher’s… locally-produced lamb.

Rachel Ruffle’s home is just a few miles away from where she is planning to build the wind farm.

She lives with her partner, Steve, and their two young children.

What we want to do is try and get the facts across, and just, you know… this is a good proposal, what it’s about, these are the turbines, where they are going to go, this is the effect it’s going to have or the lack of effect, this is how much energy it’ll produce, this is how turbines work, this is how noisy they’ll be, all those things.

You know, people want a greener Britain. They’re not going to do it by stopping renewable energy projects.

Quiet, quiet, quiet, Billy! Billy! Quiet!

Go on.

Martin Tucker’s grandfather bought the farm near Den Brook in the 1920s. Martin now farms it with his son. But it’s not always been easy. Several years ago, the neighbouring farm contracted foot and mouth disease. All Martin’s livestock had to be culled. So they built a pyre and burnt them which was not good.

The silence was the worst of it, the complete silence. I could never… believe I wouldn’t want to go and see stock or want to farm. Having been here all me life, I never thought you could feel that. But it did, it did.

Eventually Martin restocked, but when Rachel approached him about the wind farm, it was his chance for a new future. Her company, RES, got permission to put up the anemometer mast to collect wind speed data and check if the site is windy enough.

Rachel’s task now is to get planning permission for the whole wind farm. RES claim it will provide enough electricity for up to 13,000 homes. But Martin and Rachel are going to face some tough opposition.

The developers led us to believe the application isn’t in.

In a field close by Tucker’s farm, protesters called the Den Brook Valley Action Group are about to publicise their campaign. They want to draw attention to how high the turbines will be by launching a balloon as close as possible to Tucker’s farm.

In my little briefcase, off to work we go.

But one of the group has reservations.

You’re very sweet, have you got some glasses?

So far, he’s had good relations with Rachel and thinks he could have arranged for the launch to be from the farm itself.

I want to speak to the developers, I don’t want to break that communication line.

Let’s just see how well those hold in there for the minute.

And if they’d approached me earlier, I think we might have been able to put it up on an actual position of a turbine.

Mike Hulme has always been in two minds about the wind farm. His property is one of the ones which will lie close to the turbines. Looking from here, they will come round there, sweeping through an arc of about 120 degrees. He’s most concerned about noise that he fears could come from the turbines.

Mike and his wife, Bash, came to Devon for the peace and quiet. She grows the produce and he runs a specialist car maintenance business. Everything they have is tied up in their property. They came to seek a different sort of life, before Green became fashionable. It was January 1975 and we’d been looking for somewhere like this.

We’d been looking for two years, hadn’t we? Two years. I suppose.

We were looking to develop something we could use as a sort of demonstration that you didn’t have to live a sort of high consumer, high speed lifestyle.

We were going to have our own methane digester.

Yeah, we were even going to have a wind turbine.

Mike and Bash, in theory, then, are sympathetic to the wind farm even though the nearest turbine will be just over a kilometre away.

Good morning.

But the action group are intent on direct protest.

And it appears to me at this point it’s becoming a mudslinging match.

Oh, we’ve got life.

Go!

Yeah, lovely.

Get it near the end.

Can you believe it?

It does upset me that there are a lot of, mainly, outsiders that are heavily against it. They want the electric, but they don’t want it in their back garden.

331 feet. So who’d like one of these in their garden?

Only three turbines currently exist in Devon. They’ve been built by another developer. They’re at Bradworthy, about 30 miles from Martin’s farm.

Ah. Brilliant. I think they’re marvellous things.

To meet Government targets, Devon has to plan for 151 megawatts of renewable energy by 2010. So far, all they have coming from on shore wind is three megawatts.

You seem genuinely thrilled by them.

Yeah I am, genuinely.

Martin’s keen on renewable energy and he knows he is going to do well out of it, too.

You’ve got to strain your ear to hear them.

RES say they’ll put £27,000 yearly into a community fund.

Martin can’t reveal how much he’ll make, but in its 25-year lifespan, the wind farm will almost certainly make Martin a millionaire.

Ah, right. So that’s Bradworthy. That’s Bradworthy over there.

Gosh, there’s a house so close.

Mike and Bash are going to listen to the turbines.

There’s no question, is there? Anyone who says they can’t hear that has got to be hard of hearing.

The camera microphone may be enhancing the turbine noise, but Mike’s worried and he’s hearing it direct, so they move further back to listen.

That’s quite annoying, adum, adum, adum. That really is an intrusion, in terms of we’ve got that for the rest of our lives. I’ll have to have words with Rachel. It’s much louder than I thought it would be.

How do you get round? Is it this way?

OK? This is where you sit.

Certainly full on view for her, isn’t it?

Before leaving, Mike and Bash decide to call unannounced at the house next to the turbines.

BARKING

It’s all right, it’s their feed time.

Hello. Oh, look!

That’s mum.

Oh! Hi!

We’ve been up round and right next to them. Yes, yes.

And they are quite noisy.

On the whole they seem to sound like a plane going overhead. Yeah. But when at night they get louder, and that’s like, almost like a helicopter.

Outside at night would you hear them? You’d hear them. You would?

Quite distinctly. Whoomph, whoomph, whoomph.

You shouldn’t really be feeding them.

Are you finding it a bit overwhelming, a bit disturbing?

I hate it, so I’m not going to be happy about it. Sure. I won’t say it particularly disturbs me because I don’t spend a lot of time at this time of the year outside. At the moment I go outside, I’ve got to be outside…

We are really trying to find something that is going to reassure us that it’s going to be OK. That we’re going to be OK, really.

We’ll be OK, you know. No, no. But we’ve got to put up with a bit of noise.

It’s not just that, is it? Put up with the constant beat.

It’s devaluing the property.

Well, that’s the big, big, big effect.

You know, something we’ve worked for for so long. What was that?

There it is!

You know without a doubt they are taking something away from us. And not really with our permission. They’re nicking our tranquillity. They’re stealing it, you know. It’s highway robbery, really. Bottom line.

To talk about their worries, Mike and Bash have invited Rachel over to see them.

Are you filming already, Olly?

I’m always filming.

Oh!

Well, here we go, wind farm developer, bribing local with raspberries!

Look!

God! They’ve just put it up for us specially.

I don’t believe that!

When we’re faced with what we are being faced with here. Does any of this make sense?

Does it make sense for you to build ten turbines over there and them to be increasing an extra airport by two million people?

Where is the logic in that, for God’s sake? No, it doesn’t make any sense. You know, it just amazes me, you know. That’s why we hide away down the bottom of this lane. I would plead with you to go and listen at Bradworthy because I really… Either I’m going off my tree, or I’m… I’m really not trying to exaggerate it, you know, that’s how it is. So if it’s up to that point…

Noise isn’t Rachel’s only problem.

One of the four landowners involved has pulled out.

Hello.

Good news for Martin Tucker.

He’ll now get an extra turbine on his land. And more money.

Well, five is better than four in anybody’s maths. So yes, it’s got to be an advantage, exactly.

Mike should be pleased that the turbines are not going to be so close.

But he’s been back to Bradworthy with Rachel and he is still not convinced.

I got the impression Rachel was a bit surprised when she heard the noise at Bradworthy.

But she seems confident that they can design the wind farm here such that we won’t get the noise.

It seems to me that if there is going to be noise, there’s going to be noise.

RES, good afternoon.

Rachel’s got a meeting at company headquarters just outside London. It’s from here that RES design and build wind farms all over the world. She has to get sign off on the re-jigged plans for the Devon site.

Yes. As you know, we’ve been through quite a lot of different designs, ranging from 19 smaller ones but then we quite early on decided to go for the bigger turbines. The number of turbines has been reduced. Partly because we had a landowner who decided not to go-ahead. But actually nine 80-metre towers gives just as much if not more energy than ten 60-metres.

The towers, though, have been raised by 20 metres. To blade tip, each will now be 120 metres high, more than twice the height of Nelson’s Column.

It does have a level of support, although there’s quite a vociferous anti minority, I would guess. And you’re doing quite a lot of work on community relations. Right project, right place, let’s submit it for planning and hopefully we will get consent in a few months’ time. OK. That’s about it, really.

But it’s too early to celebrate.

Over the next few weeks, Rachel’s life is likely to become increasingly uncomfortable.

In Den Brook, the news that the turbines would be 20 metres taller kicks off a new war of words.

John Shields is the Action Group’s Mr Fixit. He lives very close to the site and he’s Martin Tucker’s cousin.

I had a discussion in the pub with him about it.

A bit awkward, no.

He was adamant I would do it if I was offered the money. I said I don’t want to look at those things and I can’t believe you do.

I still haven’t had anybody come up and say it’s a bad idea.

Hi, Christine. How are you?

It’s fairly open here, I’ll do you four on the hedge.

They come in pairs. You’ve got the “Save The Valley” and the “Say No”.

If people don’t wake up to the idea it’s going to be too late.

They’re a lot of nimbies in my opinion. When the Bradworthy wind turbines were on I bet none of these were down there, they couldn’t care at all. It’s only because it’s in their back yard. Everybody’s got to do their bit. I don’t mind. People have moved into the area and they seem to be against anything and everything that we’ve been doing over the last centuries, which is spoiling our towns.

I’m going to have to emigrate now, aren’t I?

Do I care?!

No way is it a valley. You know, where they’re suggesting there is a place called Den Brook Valley. No way. That worries me more than people putting up signs because that’s led me the opportunity now for me to put up a sign, which we’ve had a lot of good feedback from. There’s a lot of people who will stop here and have a good look at it. There goes somebody driving by now. Job done.

Next day, down at Mike Hulme’s, a package has arrived.

Did you know Rachel was going to send it?

It was obvious what is was when it arrived because it was in a big RES envelope.

Rachel’s sent new photo montages of how the nine turbines will look from Mike’s house.

At least we’ve only got four that are conflicting with each other. It could have been worse. But I’ve got no say in it, I suppose. At the end of the day, what do we matter in the scheme of things? It’s not a question of doing the best thing for the environment. The best thing for the environment is people to stop using vast amounts of energy. We’ve already lost quite considerably. We’ve lost the sale of our house, which was a major part of our plans for the next few years.

MOBILE PHONE RINGS

Ha, ha, saved by the bell! Guess who this is?

Cor, thank you, Rachel. Was it all right?

Before putting in the planning application, Rachel needs to tie up the contracts with the landowners.

So I’ll speak to you, after two o’clock or something.

Cheers, Rachel.

It’s pretty, pretty imminent, really. Well, very imminent, very imminent. It looks like we could be doing it tomorrow. Lovely. How exciting.

Eventually, Rachel’s close to finalising the contracts.

Everything’s done, everything’s ready.

All the environmental statements, all the drawings are ready. I’ve got a copy in my bag here to show Mike.

Hello! Mike! Hi.

Hello, Rachel.

How are you?

So any day now, we’re going to be putting in a planning application.

Really, have you got your legal stuff sorted?

I’m hoping to get a call on my phone, which is in the car.

This is what we’ll be submitting. That’s the environmental statement.

So that’s all the text visuals, visual assessment, landscape assessment, hydrology, ecology, archaeology, shadow flicker, noise, everything.

I’ve got to pick my children up at some point and I’ve got to take this with me.

Oh, really? Right. I’d better have a look at it then.

You probably wouldn’t say it now, but I remember in the early days you saying well maybe you ought to be feeling good because there’s going to be a wind farm there and you’re doing your bit for the environment.

You know, that doesn’t really go down too well!

When you’ve had 30 years of peace and quiet and suddenly you realise that that’s going to be changed.

To some respect… extent.

Rachel has some news for Mike about his peace and quiet.

Some months before, he’d given RES permission to place a microphone at his property to record background noise levels.

The higher the background noise, the noisier the turbines are allowed to be.

They’re in for a shock.

You’d be surprised, Mike, that the noise here is noisier than at Broad Nymet.

Is noisier than at Broad Nymet.

We measured higher levels here than at Broad Nymet.

What, of ambient?

Yep, background noise. So it’s not the quietest place in the world.

You’ve used the higher noise levels for us.

The ones that were measured here.

But those… So am I going to be able to see the ones that you measured here?

If we were to use the ones from Broad Nymet here.

Mike and Bash are certainly worried about noise now.

Sorry it’s such a short visit.

Hoping to go to planning very soon. I’ll let you know.

Hopefully when I get back in the car there might be a message, saying “OK”.

I really just hate having to leave when there’s still so much to say. And it feels really rude as well. I think he makes a good point. He doesn’t feel that he is totally against it. And he doesn’t feel like he is totally for it either. I want to make it work. And I don’t want people to be against it. I want everyone to love wind farms and if I can find a way of making them love wind farms then, and welcome them and then not to be protesters, then that would be great.

The next day is the moment Rachel’s been waiting for. It’s West Devon Borough Council offices in Okehampton. The contracts with the landowners have at last been agreed.

I’ve got a big box of planning applications here. Thank you.

So it just has to be signed there and dated, if you could… Yep.

RES have already spent £300,000 in development costs, and there’s a charge for the planning application, too.

OK. And a cheque for 50,000, please. 50,000.

I know. I was quite tempted to go shopping earlier.

Our accounts department said, “Make sure you get a receipt”. Yes, I’ll just go and get the receipt.

It will now take six weeks before the final planning meeting.

Six weeks in which the war between developers and protesters is bound to escalate.

Right, there you go. Thank you very much.

The next morning, Rachel’s delivering copies of the environmental statement to post offices so that the public can have access to it. She then drives past the wind farm site.

What do you think of the signs?

It’s a fair enough form of protest. I’m quite surprised they didn’t do it sooner. Now there’s a nice sign.

Did you help Martin with his sign? That’s a RES thing?

Yes.

Did RES pay for it?

Yeah, we gave him the sign.

But he wanted a sign and said, “Can you make me one, Rachel?”

Yes. I didn’t make it personally.

I didn’t sew it with my bare hands.

The signs soon become the source of trouble.

A week later, new chair of DBVAG, Maureen Thompson, has a front page story for the local paper.

Overnight, we have had all of our signs vandalised. They trespassed as well, they trespassed at the Piles as well. And they’ve trespassed in other places. It was sheep marker spray. That’s what we thought it was.

And now Martin Tucker has something to report, too.

There’s no need to go vandalising on people’s property. There’s just no need for it. Now the plans have gone in, they can see what we intend to do. It’ll be all up to the planners at the end of the day and they’ll make their decision.

I’m Lynette Hamilton, Chairman of our parish council.

The next evening, Bow Parish Council have called a meeting to give local people a chance to see the plans and make comments.

The application is to erect nine wind turbines…

RES have already held an exhibition and Rachel attended public meetings. She’s even canvassed door to door.

Well, we sent out these leaflets last week. Did you get one?

I did indeed. Way to go. I’m well keen on the idea. Oh, good.

Hello. Yeah. Quite happy about it. Perfectly happy. Yeah.

They are a bit of a blot on the landscape now, aren’t they?

And another thing, somebody is making some money out of it. And it ain’t us, kid. No.

I’ve actually got no objection to it.

We can’t keep using up all the resources, the coal and the oil.

No concerns. No.

I’m sort of on the fence about this. I don’t know if it is a good thing or not.

But tonight’s meeting will be a difficult time for her.

To hear this constant drone night and day, I would have to move out of the village.

I would like to continue the point about the low frequency noise…

To me this is vandalising one of the most precious environments that we’ve still got in this country.

We simply cannot believe that this application is seriously being made.

I would like to propose a vote that we are against wind turbines.

I knew all the people in there. The community in Bow has not turned out in force against it.

It is the same faces, the core of DBVAG.

What I would wish for is that loads and loads of supporters came along as well.

But they don’t, so… Why not? Where are they?

Well, they’re probably sitting at home, looking after their kids, hard day at work, you know. Just normal people.

One person at the meeting still prepared to be open-minded is Mike Hulme.

I’m sort of reserving my position to some extent.

Because I have felt all the way along I want to try and look at both sides of the situation.

The owners of that company, whoever they may be, are in business, as you said at the beginning, to make money. The same as you or I would be. Of course. They are not in it for the good of the Earth. But when the lights go out and when we’ve got… We’ve got serious global warming issue at the moment.

What happened in the ice age, Mike?

I don’t think we can start getting into that. It’s cyclical. It’s cyclical.

Well, if you believe that basically we have to agree to disagree. Yes.

In my opinion anyway, without a doubt, CO2 emissions are contributing significantly to this global warming issue. And if we don’t do something about it, we are going to leave a dreadful legacy for the next generation.

Can I talk to you about the wind farm for a couple of minutes? I don’t agree with it. Good.

The objectors now have less than two weeks to make submissions to the council.

They decide to ask the public what they think.

You’re objecting for the following reasons, detrimental to the landscape, impact of noise and flicker on local people.

On Tucker’s farm, where the RES anemometer is collecting wind speed data, there’s been more direct protest.

They had a right old go at this. Obviously done with a pair of wire cutters. I’ve spoken to one or two people from the action group. They assure me it was nothing to do with them and I do believe them. And they were appalled by it as well. I hope they don’t try it again because I’d hate to be out here if I caught them.

Would you sign a letter of objection? No. That’s fine. That’s fine.

We should be using wave power. We totally agree with you.

Mike Hulme’s business is at a standstill.

He’s making a detailed objection and it isn’t finished yet.

It’s long, I mean I’ve barely started on it.

He’s concerned about noise, that he will sort of suffer as a result of noise from the wind farm.

You wouldn’t believe how much work is in there.

Our predictions are saying that he won’t.

Maureen, come in here…

Eventually, by the deadline, the Action Group hand in 3,000 signed objections.

They are also submitting a detailed objection to what they claim was the wind farm’s impact on landscape, noise, tourism and wildlife, and its limited generation of energy.

But Mike’s missed the deadline. He’s being trying to get the background noise data he claims RES promised him. So far he has only seen what’s in their environmental assessment and not the raw data.

This is why I want to talk to Rachel. I want to get to the bottom of it. But I can’t get her to talk to me about it any more.

If we give him the data, he’s going to ask us how to interpret it, what to do with it, how to average it, and all these things, which really, unless you’ve got a degree in acoustics, it’s quite difficult to do.

So far, we’ve got 402 objections, 31 support. And these are the ones which were handed in today.

What about if people hand things in later on, what happens then?

It is only up until the closing date, the end of today, and then we would have to speak to the Case Officer, Jane Green, to find out.

You’re wearing a suit? Bash insisted. She thought I looked like a hick.

OK, let’s go. So, are we going?

It’s four days later. Four days after the closing date for objections.

Does it feel like you handing in your homework?

Mike’s been told he can hand in his submission late. Rachel did make contact with him again.

It would appear she is trying to get the information to me, but possibly someone in a different part of the company is saying “no way”.

Hello, Stephen Gill is around, I think, so if you want to pull the door and come through.

OK.

Stephen Gill is West Devon’s Chief Planning Officer.

Are you Mr Gill? I am. I’m Mike Hulme. Hi, pleased to meet you.

I’m from Coxmoor. I’m about a thousand metres away from the wind farm.

That’s close.

I was waiting for some information from RES. I get the feeling that they have just basically fobbed me off. Fobbed me off and they won’t…

It’s us you’re dealing with now rather than them. So if you get anything…

So obviously, because it’s obviously very important to me.

Well, thanks a lot. Pleased to meet you.

OK. OK, cheers.

Well, that was quite good, wasn’t it?

It was just nice that he was willing to give me a bit of time.

Is there part of you that wants to get him and say, “Do us a favour and turn it down”?

Well, no, no, I’m not necessarily looking to have it…

I’m still not sure whether it’s the right thing to do or not. We have got an energy crisis on the horizon and we’ve got a pollution and global warming crisis going on. I’m not… certainly not convinced that this is the best way to address it.

But at least it is a gesture towards it, isn’t it?

We’re going to basically lose periods of quiet for the next 25 years, at least. If it’s worthwhile, it’s perhaps acceptable to pay that price, but if it is just a token gesture and a big money earner for an already wealthy company, it’s just a sad, sick situation, I think.

In four days time, West Devon Borough Council will meet to decide whether to give planning permission for the turbines. Before then, statutory consultees will give their view, including Dartmoor National Park Authority. Today, the Authority’s members will decide. Alone, they can’t stop the development but they can certainly limit its chances, should they choose to.

Right from the start, we’ve consulted with the Planning Officers and The National Park. I was fairly confident, really, not that they would come out and support it, but I would have expected them to say something like “no comment”. But the problem is I am not allowed to speak.

To the delight of the objectors, the Dartmoor Authority members vote not to support the wind farm.

I think that is three voted for, a lot voted against and a few abstained.

So.

The very landscape that they are trying to protect is the one that is going to be affected by climate change the most. So this technology is about protecting landscapes and ecology and habitat.

How was Rachel this morning? I expect she was disappointed.

I am sure she was disappointed.

If they win the day, perhaps they’ll think she’s done a wonderful job.

But we haven’t lost the battle yet, we’re still in the throes.

West Devon Council offices. Rachel’s come for the first meeting of the West Devon Council Planning Committee that will decide whether or not to grant the planning permission. Some of the objectors are there too. The Planning Committee consists of nine elected councillors and the chairman, Councillor Roger Mathew.

Right. Good morning, members, ladies and gentlemen.

The witching hour is upon us. The recommendation here is for a site inspection.

Jane?

I am advised that both the applicants and the Den Brook Valley Action Group are willing to fly balloons, weather permitting.

I think without much further ado, Councillor Darch, you are minded to move a site inspection.

Yes, I would be quite happy to move a site inspection.

I feel it’s the fairest way for members to go on site and see it for themselves.

All right, Ken?

So the councillors can judge the height of the turbines, John Shields is launching a protesters’ balloon from land near his cousin Martin Tucker’s farm.

Rachel’s brought in a team of her own experts.

We put one through your handle here, do we?

The protesters are making doubly certain their balloon can be seen clearly.

OK, let it go. Yeah, it’s looking good.

What’s he doing there? Yes, what’s he doing there?

That’s the antis. Chocks away!

They’ve got a white balloon to match the clouds. Would you believe it?

God, that’s horrendous.

If you were one of the councillors and you were elderly and your eyesight isn’t that sharp, are you going to pinpoint that when you’re two or three miles away? It’s going to be very hard for them to see.

Let’s not spend too long because I think it’s pretty clear.

The councillors will view the site from all the agreed viewpoints shown in RES photo montages.

It’s hard to pick them out, that white balloon.

Has everybody got the balloons?

I believe that to be the applicant’s two balloons.

The lower of which would be at 80 metres, which is hub height, and the higher one would be 120 metres which is the tip of the blade.

Have you all got that? Are there any questions for Jane at this point on points of policy or fact?

We don’t discuss the outcomes, I’ll just remind people.

Along the way, parish councillors are allowed to address the site meeting.

It’s not been proven that these turbines will provide sufficient energy.

To think what those turbines will take away from the lovely view from Dartmoor to Exmoor, it’s going to be a crying shame to spoil that outlook.

There you are, Chairman. Thank you very much.

Good morning, David. Good morning, Chairman. How are you?

There is a tremendous difference between the hub height and the…

It’s quite a big machine, yes. Have a look at the photograph. Pass it round.

Are we happy with that? Yes, thank you. Is everyone content?

Never content with this.

LAUGHTER AND GROANS

I am sorry, Chairman.

I’m not having expressions of view. I know you’re not.

You can tell me all about that at committee. I’ll talk about the Government, then.

Well, you can complain as much as you want then, but please not now because it is a public meeting.

Can we pull it all together, please, because we’re running short of time?

The blinking sergeant major knows the way.

In the interests of pressing on, what I want to do now is take the Spreyton Parish Council view and then I’ll take the ward member view.

Virtually 100% against.

On visual impact – it’s inconsistent with other planning policies.

Noise, all the other issues, but mainly the visual impact, and we are very much against it.

I think that’s all I need to say.

Can I add anything to that if possible?

No, I’m sorry, you can’t.

It’s not a public meeting.

It’s for councillors. It’s not a public meeting.

I thought I’d make myself clear. OK, that’s fine.

You come along to the meeting and you will hear how we deal with the determination on Tuesday week. OK?

All aboard – those who are coming aboard. Otherwise you will miss your lunch and have to walk home.

Ooh. Take my boots off now.

In 12 days at the final planning meeting, the councillors will have to vote.

We had two balloons under each other. Oh, right.

Before then, Chief Planning Officer Stephen Gill, his team and consultees meet to draw up recommendations ‘to help the councillors make their decision.

They have to get it right, as the decision is open to public scrutiny and could result in legal action. Case Officer Jane Green has prepared the draft report. So far, RES have refused the council’s request to hand over wind speed data they’ve recorded. They say it is commercially sensitive but council and objectors are both questioning just how much electricity the wind farm will really generate.

Den Brook Valley Action Group, outputs and benefits are not quantified or verified and there is an issue with the wind speeds. It seems that the output has been calculated using national figures rather than site-specific wind speed data.

RES claim that it will provide enough power for between 10,000 and 13,000 homes, but without the site-specific data, the council are reduced to using estimates from a wind atlas.

If you use the figures on the wind speed atlas, it does suggest that the applicants have made something of an overestimate.

Dave, landscape. It’s not just… totally subjective. We’ve got this evidence that the landscape character and so on…

The landscape is characterised and there is a detailed assessment of that.

We know what that is and we know how that’s going to be affected.

Right. So that’s all.

I’m grateful for you coming because it’s been quite difficult for us, I think. There’s a lot of issues here.

The meeting lasts for several hours. Finally a decision is made.

It’s been tricky and it’s still very much, to my mind, not absolutely clear cut, but I think we’ve got it right. I think we can defend it.

OK, if we’re all comfortable, thanks very much indeed, everyone.

The planning officer’s recommendations are due to be posted on the council’s website.

Just waiting and waiting. If this were to go ahead, the application, what would that mean to you?

If this was to go ahead? Yeah, it would be wonderful. It would be a life’s achievement.

It would be fantastic because I live here as well, so I would see that wind farm regularly.

Jenny Rosser, one of the objectors’ committee members also tries to find out what the decision is.

Hello, Maureen. It’s Jenny here.

Hello. I’m having difficulty getting into the West Devon Borough Council website.

I’m checking.

I’m checking. I’m checking.

I’m checking. Ho ho.

I think it might be here.

It’s here, It’s here!

Oh, great.

Is it good, bad or indifferent?

It’s not just telling me in one go.

It’s all blah, blah, blah. Ah! Terrific!

Oh, refused.

On what grounds?

For the following reasons.

Visual impact.

Go on, read it to me. I can’t read it.

The council’s report recommends refusal chiefly because of the wind farm’s visual impact on the landscape and its possible effect on the site’s historic and archaeological environment. It also notes that RES’s claims for the amount of electricity it would generate are not adequately substantiated.

I’ve just got to try and pull my act together.

SOBS: I’ve got to go and pick up the kids in a minute.

That’s really good news.

An outright refusal apparently and on lots of very solid grounds. That’s really terrific.

They don’t believe it will, you know, generate any electricity. This is just mad.

RES’s policy of not releasing first noise data and now wind data has made people suspicious.

But anything could still happen. This is an episode in the saga.

I certainly don’t see it being the end of the line.

Just because they’ve been recommended to refuse doesn’t mean that they have to refuse it.

The next day, Rachel has read the full report and wants to tackle the council on its recommendations.

I would really like to have a face-to-face meeting to have these things explained before we get into the land of lawyers.

Who’s that? Is that him?

No. It is.

If there is reasonable justification for what they’re saying and why they haven’t put certain comments in, then bring it on.

Let’s hear what it is.

Hi. Hello. I’m Stephen Gill.

I’m Rachel Ruffle. I won’t be a minute.

I’ll swap one file. What more do you want us to do?

Ideally, I’d like that report, as it stands now, not to be in the public domain, because members and other people will be reading it.

But it is, unless you’ve got a…

We can’t go back in time. It can be changed.

We’ve got no problem with this. This is what we thought at the time of writing.

You’ve given us something since, fine. What you have given us is this.

A letter from Rachel had not arrived in time for the council’s report.

I gave it to you on the morning.

It argued that even using the wind speed atlas figures, the energy yield from the wind farm would match RES’s target of supplying between 10,000 and 13,000 homes.

I’m not allowed to release the site data into the public domain but given what you say yourself that 6.4 to 6.8 eight metres per second is a reasonable wind speed, the capacity factor comes out at 28.5% and that’s what that letter explains.

But we didn’t have this when we were preparing the report.

You won’t release the site data previously… But that is only basic maths in there.

OK. We would release it to you in confidence and we will release it to an independent technical expert, but we will not release it into the public domain because it causes too much hassle.

He was really quite defensive and sort of saying, “We’re not biased. It’s not a biased report.”

Look, me, reading the report, I work in this, I’ve been doing this for two years, I read it and I don’t see the positive comments from the Environment Agency, I don’t see the positive comments from English Nature.

I see questions about low-frequency noise effects and strobe effects which are ludicrous, looniest things left hanging in the air.

I was doing my nicest, sort of, smile to try and keep everything calm.

What did you achieve in that?

Um, well, I don’t think they’re going to defer it. I’m pretty sure now that they’re just going to push it through and object to it.

The next day, and things could get even worse for Rachel.

Devon County Council are also consultees.

She goes to see if they will be supporting West Devon’s recommended refusal.

Their vote goes against her too.

I imagine she’s not feeling too happy.

We got some email which I think we need to explore with Jane in a moment, because there are some points of detail.

She is going on in her second substantive paragraph about the energy yield.

Presumably you will update members on that.

I have left a copy of their calculations in both member’s rooms, if anyone wants to get into the detail of it, so it’s readily accessible.

I would invite members just to disregard the latter part of that paragraph.

I think that’s the correct and fair thing to do.

But does it materially affect the balance of your recommendation?

No, it doesn’t, Chairman, and it doesn’t answer certain questions about the site specifics of the wind which they’re still refusing to release.

In 24 hours, along with the other main parties, Rachel will be allowed a three-minute speech at the final planning committee meeting.

She’s drafting it with her RES PR colleague.

They only get three minutes as well.

I think our argument should be, yes, it will be visible, but, on balance, the benefits of this project far outweigh any of those concerns.

Den Brook should be seen as an opportunity to do something about climate change.

Why don’t they do a poll of the local area? Why don’t you challenge them to do a poll? I’m sure it would come out favourably.

What it’s really coming down to is visual effect.

Is there anything you can do tomorrow to try and make a difference? If we can try and make them see that they’ve got this opportunity to actually do something positive.

They have to have the courage to do it. It’s all about courage to make that decision.

Go. “Hello, I’m Rachel Ruffle. I’m the project manager for the Den Brook proposal.”

RES Technical Director Chris Shears, down from head office, will share the three minutes with Rachel.

Try to say to these guys, “Look, you are important people.” Puff their chests out a bit, you know.

“You have the ability to take this decision, and it’s a very important decision in the context of climate change and global warming, energy security, blah, blah, blah.

“You can either put your head in the sand or you can take a positive decision that will allow the project to proceed in a timely fashion rather than everyone go through the pain of a public inquiry and all the taxpayers’ money that that’s going to take.”

The chairman of the committee with chauffeur has just arrived and is coming down towards you. Over.

OK, Keith. I’ll direct them down.

The next stage in the future of the Den Brook turbines is about to be decided.

The chairman of the committee and his chauffeur, OK? Carry on.

Good morning. I thought it best to be driven this morning. Yes, I’m the chauffeur.

It’s all about location, isn’t it?

It’s all… Well, it’s all about material planning considerations, Margaret, as always.

Morning, gentlemen.

Rachel has argued forcefully over the last few days that her company’s energy estimates for the wind farm are not exaggerated, but RES still haven’t released either the wind data or the background noise data.

Good morning, members.

But still, anything could happen.

The councillors don’t have to accept the recommendations of the officers.

What a morning for my voice to start playing up.

But…

…you’ll all just have to strain to hear me. Starting on page 22.

Den Brook. Jane? The Environment Agency have written…

Responding to Rachel’s pressure, Jane Green briefs the meeting on a number of organisations who have no objection to the building of the wind farm.

…broadly happy with the proposed methodology.

I also have a letter from the applicants which unfortunately arrived just after the report was printed off.

She also confirms that wind speeds from the wind atlas are consistent with RES’s predicted energy yield.

So I would invite you to disregard the latter half of the second paragraph on page 33 of the report stating “this is of concern”.

Very comprehensive, if I may say so.

The chief planning officer then gives the key reasons why he is recommending that Council members vote to refuse planning permission.

It’s the combination of that sheer scale and the high quality of the landscape character that causes this particular proposal to have a significant adverse impact in officers’ view, and one that unfortunately outweighs what we recognise as the many benefits.

We therefore feel that the proposal is unacceptable and we feel it’s unacceptable in policy terms.

That brings us to the public speakers.

Tony has a useful egg timer. Miss Ruffle?

Do you mind if we split it? One and a half minutes? I’ll let you do it, but I’d rather you’d asked me before. I did actually ask the clerk.

Did you? Oh, well. We tried it once before and it doesn’t work terribly well.

It’s up to you, up to you.

Tony will start his egg timer.

No statutory bodies have raised concerns on noise, ecology, wildlife, aviation or hydrology. A Mori Poll in 2004 said 71% of rural residents in Devon would be pleased to see a wind farm in their area. It comes down to a balance. You should commission a Mori Poll of the local residents and ask them the question, would they prefer to do nothing in the face of climate change or to have a small change, a temporary change in the landscape for clean, green and local power?

Chairman, councillors, your officers have got it wrong, unfortunately. They have got the balance wrong between the need to develop renewable energy sources and the weight to be ascribed a well-designed, well-thought-through wind farm in an undesignated landscape. Wind farms like Den Brook become more essential each day. Clean energy at the point of use, simple and secure, enough power for 50% of the homes of West Devon. So I would ask you today to think very carefully about this decision. Be bold, strike the right balance and support this wind farm.

You just, just scraped in under the wire, sir. Thank you very much.

I will now open the issue to members for debate.

From Nymet Cross and from Nichols Nymet, I looked across miles and miles of beautiful, unspoilt countryside. Then I consulted the photo montage to see these imposing structures which would completely change our wonderful Devon landscape. For the reason of the immense visual impact, I shall be voting to support the officers’ recommendation.

I am still very undecided, even at this stage.

I am still not wholly convinced that we should be refusing this.

The only place I really had feelings was in Bow at the playing fields and in Strawberry Fields, from the gardens that we saw there. The impact for those people will be huge.

I am not ambivalent about windmills, wind turbines et cetera, but I don’t passionately dislike them either.

I shall await Councillor Waterhouse’s comments before I even make my mind up, because I am still very unsure.

Sir. Think of the future. I’m a great-grandfather, by the way. It will be the second time in May.

LAUGHTER

What will our great-grandchildren say about the idiots who allowed this to go ahead, whether in Government or whether in local council?

I made a note the other day and I’m going to read it out to you, Chairman. If this application goes to appeal and they win, then all West Devon Borough councillors must become militant and block all roads to the site.

LAUGHTER

You said this on site visit.

No doubt there would be help from the 3,000 plus objectors to the proposed site blockage. Thank you, Chairman.

Thank you, Councillor Hughes. West Devon Borough Council’s Home Guard!

LAUGHTER

Do you want to come in now, Mrs Waterhouse?

I have found it very, very difficult to come to a conclusion. I am not going to support the officers’ recommendation on this occasion.

Um…

I am going to concentrate on trying to persuade people that if you look at these wind turbines, they are, in their own right, beautiful objects exploiting the materials of which they are made.

They are contributing to our continuing well-being and if in the end, as Mrs Govier says, we don’t like them, we can take them down.

I want to try and pull the threads together, and I’m going to try and do that now. I also want to add a little bit of balance, I think, and pull us onto the planning issues. The planning issues are what we are going to have to focus on. Then I’ll ask the mover, Councillor Darch, to reply to the debate and we will get a vote going.

Yes, I am entitled to my own view and I am entitled to tell you because I’m a member of the committee as well as its chairman, so it’s time I came off the fence. I shall be supporting the recommendation, but I want to explain why, because I shall do so rather sadly, actually very sadly. Like Mrs Waterhouse, I don’t actually object to wind turbines. I can find a form fitted to function in them which I find elegant, and I think you can learn to love them. But there is an issue of scale, and when you actually stand in a gateway in the Den Brook Valley and you look out over it, and you relate the photographs, which incidentally are excellent, and you relate those to what you can see on the ground and you look at the balloons, you don’t even actually have to look at the balloons because you can pick it up from the photograph. I mean, this is huge. These machines are huge. To get it into proportion, however, they are only two-thirds of the height of the North Hessary Mast, which is about 640 feet, and that is bang in the middle of the National Park in a most prominent location. You can see it for score of miles. There’s a balance to be drawn here. But you’re looking here not just at one, you’re looking at nine, and you’re looking at it in a much smaller-scale landscape. That is part of the reason, only part of the reason, why the officers came to the conclusion not only that there was an impact, but that it’s a significant impact and that it’s a detrimental impact. It’s a matter of judgement whether the scale of this proposal is so great as to justify a refusal.

That’s the key issue that your officers are bringing in front of you and that’s what you should have in your mind when you vote. The recommendation is, as on page 36, to refuse for those reasons. I will see those in favour of that motion, please.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

Those against? One, two, three.

That is carried.

The application is refused and we will now break… I think it will be fair to break for 20 minutes, because I expect some people might want to interview some members and now is the time to do it.

I think if the scale had been better related, you might have stood a better chance.

We’ll take that away and think about it. I regret it, but it was the right decision, I’m afraid.

It was a fine balance. I was just saying to the chairman, it’s a difficult one.

You did mention turbulence, didn’t you?

Sorry? You did mention turbulence. There’s a lot of turbulence in this business, for sure.

Why didn’t the council, the planners, say to us, “This is a big problem with the scale. Go back. This is not going to be acceptable. We think it’s got severe visual impact.” Why has it only come up now?

Put your elbows up on it. That’s it. Let’s have a cheer.

I understand people who are objecting to it obviously feel happy. What are you celebrating? The fact that you’re not taking responsibility for your own power.

Anybody want to buy some signs? I think it’s going to go on.

Farmer Tucker, he’s not going to let go, is he?

As long as you haven’t spent the dream, you’re all right. Believe me, I haven’t.

This is quite a symbolic moment, don’t you think?

I wonder if RES are going to go for appeal.

So all I would ask you is tell me what noise level I am going to receive, what emission level I am going to receive.

It’s a big thing for me, this noise thing.

I know it’s a big thing.

I’ve spent more hours talking to you about it than…

Sure.

But then I’m probably the only one who’s focused in on that.

If we decide we’re going to go for appeal, then I’ll revisit it.

I’ve got to take them to the train station.

Yes. Well done today.

Well done today. Yes.

After months of fighting, the battle for Den Brook is nowhere near finished yet.

Press release announcing our decision to appeal West Devon Borough Council’s refusal.

I will begin by formally opening the inquiry.

Their high-powered barristers will just tear me to shreds.

If you don’t like the answer, you can come back afterwards. No… I’m sorry…

Data from the noise measurements have not been made available.

This begs the question as to whether information has been purposefully withheld.

What on earth are we sacrificing this beautiful environment for?

You won’t tell us.

Subtitles by Red Bee Media subtitling@bbc.co.uk

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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