The company that wants to build a wind farm of 15 100-metre high turbines between Conington and Boxworth last week publicly apologised for failing to consult local people properly.
Your Energy Limited made the admission at the close of a three-week long public inquiry into its appeal against South Cambridgeshire District Council’s refusal of planning consent for the development.
But the company’s solicitor, Marcus Trinick, accused the objectors, the Stop Cambridge Wind Farm action group, of “fundamentalist opposition” to on-shore wind generation of electricity.
He also implied that the council’s attitude to climate change was hypocritical: although SCDC has signed the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change, South Cambs has no installed or approved wind generation, even though the county as a whole has already almost met its 2010 target of 10 per cent of power from renewable resources.
Mr Trinick said few English residents had actually seen the sources of their domestic power – though people living in the shadow of coal-fired and nuclear stations in Yorkshire and Oxfordshire had daily experience of where South Cambridgeshire’s electricity came from.
Mr Trinick insisted that there was no evidence that the proposal would cause accidents by distracting drivers on the A14, and he assured the Inspector that, if planning consent were granted, Your Energy would act swiftly to put right any interference with television programmes from the revolving turbines.
Tina Douglass, counsel for the district council, countered the arguments of Your Energy’s consultants on landscape and historic landscape. One of them had treated “the historic landmarks of church spires and traditional windmills simply as vertical elements to be grouped together with radio and telecommunications masts and pylons” and had left out several local conservation areas from her impact study.
Witnesses had missed one crucial point about the local landscape. What set Conington and Boxworth apart historically was the openness between them.
She complained that the appellants, rather than evaluate other locations and choose the one that seemed best, had simply chosen this site and sought to justify it without reference to any other site.
Miss Douglass reminded the inspector, Dr Andrew Pykett, of the number of road accidents that had been attributed to drivers distracted by the (stationary) Angel of the North, adjacent to the A19 in the North-East.
“It is the local planning authority’s case that the environmental impacts, on the historic landscape and the landscape character, or the social impacts on residents cannot be satisfactorily addressed at this site.”
The campaign group’s Mike Barnard contrasted the “subtle but pervasive beauty of the landscape” with the developers’ attempts to deride as showing below average levels of distinctiveness, with bland features.
He tore into the developers’ failure to consult. “Local residents are entitled to, and do, feel aggrieved, but there is a more serious side to it than the discourtesy. Inattention has led the environmental statement and the appellants’ evidence into the error of undervaluing and failing to understand the landscape.
“No parish councils or meetings were consulted, nor were any local residents. There was one public exhibition, in May 2004. No notice of it was given to the villages to the north-east of the A14.”
He accused Your Energy’s witnesses of having persistently undervalued the landscape and failing to appreciate its sensitivity.
Comparing the proposal with the substantial mediaeval history of the communities, he added: “The turbines are indubitably of modern design and completely out of scale with existing village features.
He reminded the Inspector that the Highways Agency had been sufficiently concerned about potential road safety problems that it had formally objected to the plan.
“The need for renewable energy sources is pressing, but it is not Government policy that all schemes are to be permitted, at any environmental or social cost,” he concluded. “In this case, the evidence has clearly demonstrated that the appeal site is an inappropriate location for this scheme.”
n If the Inspector grants permission for the wind farm, it will have to be dismantled after 25 years. The decision is expected early next year.
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