The price of the alleged benefits of a wind farm of 15 100-metre high turbines between Elsworth and Boxworth is too high and/or too uncertain, a planning inspector heard yesterday (Tuesday).
Morag Ellis QC, representing the pressure group Stop Cambridge Wind Farm Action Group, said the proposed wind farm “would touch every aspect of the lives of local people. It would be visible from many homes, visible as a backdrop to daily life in their villages and travelling along the already difficult A14.
“It would tower over the closest walks and rides and continue to exert its influence over a wide distance,” she told the inspector, Dr Andrew Pykett, at the opening of a public inquiry in Cambourne into South Cambridge District Council’s refusal of planning permission for the scheme.
The protesters say the turbines would be visible across most of Huntingdonshire – as far as Eaton Socon on the Bedfordshire border.
About 60 of them – the action group has 1,650 members from 17 small South Cambridgeshire villages – turned out to protest before the start of the appeal.
But the developers, Your Energy Limited, say it is a vital component of the Government’s national and international commitments to reduce the effects of global warming through renewable energy sources.
The company’s solicitor, Marcus Trinick, told the inquiry: “This is not a case where, all other things being equal, it would be nice to have the renewables benefits deliverable from the proposed wind turbines.
“Even with this development, climate change will continue to affect us. Without this scheme the response required to the climate change challenge will fall yet further short of what is required.
“Nor is it right to categorise the yield of this scheme as a drop in the ocean. The whole international and more local response to climate change is predicated on the accumulation of very many individual steps, each of which is essential to the effectiveness of the whole.”
The council’s planning committee turned the proposal down by 28 votes to nil 18 months ago – there were 16 proposed turbines at that time – on the basis of adverse impact on the historic and modern landscape, visual intrusion, noise and road and aviation safety.
Planning committee chairman, Councillor Nick Wright, a Conington farmer, told The Hunts Post moments before the inquiry opened: “The company managed to convince not a single member of the committee of the merits of this scheme.
“We do have a policy on wind energy – to allow small wind farms of two or three turbines in appropriate locations. But probably not this one.”
Mr Trinick said Your Energy was in negotiation with the operators of Cambridge City Airport that could result in withdrawal of their objection to the proposal. (There are fears that the turbines would interfere with the airport’s radar.)
As to road safety concerns over drivers on the A14 being distracted, “I see not one shred of support for (refusal of consent for this reason), save for a generalised and unsupported fear of driver distraction. It is clear that nobody at the inquiry is going to be able to tell us when the A14 is going to be upgraded.
“We have no satisfactory plans showing a certain route or design of the upgrade. As far as I know, although we may be told differently, there is no committed capital funding for the upgrade.”
Tina Douglass [correct], counsel for the district council, conceded that nationally and regionally the Government’s target of delivering 10 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2010 fell short of being met. “But is there any supporting national policy for accepting unsuitable sites?” she asked. “The council’s case is that there is not.”
She said that, if allowed to go ahead, the scheme would damage the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside, it heritage and wildlife. “They should not be sacrificed for the sake of short-term and often illusory gains.”
The company’s environmental statement underestimated the quality, value and sensitivity of the landscape, and consideration of the historical landscape of the area had been left out of the document.
And the airport was crucial to the local economy. Any reduction in flying would result in the loss of major military contracts, civil operations and jobs.
Miss Ellis said the nub of the action group’s objection was that Your Energy had selected an inappropriate site.
“Sites must be found for various kinds of renewable energy, and some impacts will have to be accepted. But planning policy recognises limits – environmental, economic and social impacts must be addressed satisfactorily, and it is for developers to demonstrate not only environmental, economic and social benefits but also how any environmental and social impacts have been minimised through careful consideration of location, scale, design and other measures.”
A “one-size-fits-all” approach that paid no regard to local characteristics was not part of national policy, she said.
What was more, Cambridgeshire was already “doing its bit” towards achievement of the 2010 renewables target, she asserted.
Three members of the public, one from Hardwick and two from Cambridge, told Dr Pykett that they wished to speak in favour of the proposal. They were heavily outnumbered in the public seats by protesters.
Dr Pykett said the issues for him to determine were
* the impact on the character and appearance of the landscape
* the compatibility of the proposal with the historic landscape and local visual amenity
* the impact on local people’s lives, particularly of noise
* highway safety on the A14
* the effect on radar at Cambridge airport
* the possible impacts on ecology and television reception and
* whether the benefits of the development outweighed the adverse effects.
The inquiry, which is scheduled to last for three weeks, continues.
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