The development of wind turbines around Dartmoor could damage the area’s vital tourism industry in the same way as foot and mouth disease, a public inquiry into windfarm plans has been warned.
The foot and mouth crisis of 2001 hit not just Dartmoor’s farmers, but also the many businesses in the area that rely on tourism.
At yesterday’s session of a public inquiry at Okehampton into a plan to build nine 393ft-high turbines in the Den Brook valley near North Tawton, Philip Davis, the chairman of the Dartmoor Tourist Association (DTA), said he feared that the turbines would deter visitors.
Mr Davis said that the foot and mouth crisis had made the Dartmoor community realise they were dependent on each other and on tourism, which latest figures showed employed about 2,500 people.
“My overwhelming concern is the detrimental impact a successful appeal will have on the Dartmoor economy,” he said.
“Tourists come here because of the unique character and environment of Dartmoor, especially its tranquility.
“I am worried that the turbines will create the perception of an industrialised landscape. Even the publicity of this inquiry could damage our unique image.
“I consider it inevitable that some holidaymakers could be deterred. Most locals I talk to think that if those turbines are built visitor numbers will fall.
“What is contentious is how many will be deterred. One person may not sound drastic, but repeat visitors are crucial to us. Many DTA members have guests who return six or more times a year.”
Mr Davis was asked by inquiry inspector David Lavender in what way the cheese factory at North Tawton, which is visible from a number of points in northern Dartmoor, was different from the proposed turbines, which would be visible from the same places.
“There is only one cheese factory, not nine. I would be surprised if it was 394ft high and it does not move. Your eye will be drawn to the turbines,” replied Mr Davis.
“I would fight tooth and nail any threat to the National Park no matter where it came from. It is a national treasure and it should be protected for now and for always.”
The plan to build the nine turbines was rejected by West Devon Borough Council earlier this year. The hearing at Okehampton, which began on Tuesday, is into an appeal by power firm Renewable Energy Systems (RES) against the refusal.
RES claims the turbines will be capable of generating electricity equivalent to the needs of about 10,000 homes – roughly half of West Devon.
It said this would help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
Rachel Ruffle, RES’s project manager for the Devon Brook valley scheme, said: “The decision to appeal was not taken lightly, but we had a great deal of encouragement from people in Devon who were dismayed and surprised when the project was refused.”
By Mark Clough
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