by Richard Batson
A big wind farm plan off the north Norfolk coast has suffered a major blow, after county planning councillors objected to the scheme.
Fears about the potential damage to coastal views and the local fishing industry outweighed the green energy benefits, they felt.
The project involves 108 turbines, which are nearly twice as tall as Norwich Cathedral, about 20km off the coast at Sheringham Shoal.
The 172m tall towers would generate enough power for 176,000 homes, and backers say there would be minimal impact on the local environment including the seascape, fisheries and birdlife.
But after a lengthy debate Norfolk County Council’s planning and highways delegation committee voted to object.
The final decision will be made by the Government, but the council is an influential consultee – and its objections pick up on concerns aired from fisherman and local residents alike.
Committee chairman Adrian Gunson said that after studying photographs of how the wind farm could look from the coastline, it was decided that the negative impact on this area of such outstanding natural beauty would be “very significant.”
There were serious fears about the potential adverse effect on the area for local people, the local fishing industry and the impact on the sea view from the Norfolk coast.
“Sending a planning objection in response to the proposed scheme is the strongest way to raise these concerns,” he added.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to make. Renewable energy is important, but is it absolutely necessary to sacrifice some of the outstanding natural beauty on the north Norfolk coast, and possibly the livelihoods of the people working in the traditional fishing industry to achieve this?”
Windfarm backer Scira’s environmental assessment said the impact on the skyline was minimal and the turbines would only be visible when conditions were clear, which was around 60pc of the time.
But a report to the committee said the turbines would “detract from the sense of remoteness” of the coast between Blakeney and Cromer, and that they would also been seen at night because of red anti-aircraft lights and yellow flashing navigation lights.
Scira also assured no single species of bird would be harmed by the turbines and that the impact on commercial fishing was negligible. Its report said the shoal was not a primary fishing area – through it was accepted that some local fishermen would lose access to traditional grounds.
Fishermen’s associations in the area have signalled their intention to object to the scheme fearing the construction work and presence of the finished turbines would disturb the grounds.
The report to county councillors urged the Department of Trade and Industry to look carefully at the impact on local fishermen before any granting of permission, and grant any compensation if livelihoods were affected, but officers were recommending no objection.
However councillors felt otherwise and lodged a strategic planning policy objection to the scheme, environment and economic impacts.
The news was welcomed by fishermen and residents alike. Ivan Large, chairman of the Wells and north Norfolk fishermen’s associations was surprised at the decision but pleased councillors had heeded fishermen’s concerns.
Sheringham resident Bob Cumber said he was delighted with the objection, feeling that the issue of wind power needed a more careful approach particularly as 2000 turbines were planned in the Greater Wash area.
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