The proposed new wind farm off the Kent coast is a badge of honour for Mr Miliband, the Environment Secretary. But there’s another way of looking at this giant step forward in renewable energy provision – a forest of man-made concrete that will create a huge amount of noise and generate a micro-climate, albeit several miles off the Kent coast.
I have spent a lot of time in the last six years walking in this bit of the countryside – and the first thing that hits you is just how unloved a lot of it is, compared to Sussex. Planners have made some rum decisions in Kent – one of which was to allow the construction of the mammoth Pfizer drug company headquarters just down the road from the beautiful medieval town of Sandwich. The area around Margate is blighted by swathes of warehouses, ugly trading estates, caravan parks and unnecessary roundabouts.
Putting wind farms off the north Kent coast, where most of the locals are ordinary working-class people in towns like Margate and Herne Bay, is something the Government would never have dared contemplate nearer posher resorts north of the Thames estuary such as Dunwich or Southwold.
The London Array project has had the backing of Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I accept we desperately need to rethink our energy requirements. I can just about accept that this wind farm could, if the conditions were right, fulfil the requirements of up to a million customers.
But here’s the rub: the power comes to the shore via underwater cables, and is then processed via a specially built sub-station. In Kent, undeveloped land is at a premium – but there are plenty of industrial estates within a mile of the coast between Whitstable and Margate, where empty warehouses on brownfield land could be utilised for such a purpose.
Instead, the developers have decided to build their substation on green land at Cleve Hill, right on the edge of one of the most beautiful parts of Graveney Marsh, adjacent to orchards, and medieval pastures where sheep graze and birdlife is plentiful. Would the RSPB be just as happy with this project if they realised that building London Array’s £3m sub-station will mean lorries and disruption right on the edge of a protected bird sanctuary for at least two years, and the resultant building will be a huge slab the size of a football pitch?
Renewable energy comes at a considerable cost to the local community. David Miliband refused to be drawn on this, claiming that the end justified the means. The local borough council have chucked out the proposal for the sub-station, after an intense campaign by local people – even though their planning officers recommended it. Now, a public inquiry starts in March, but from the tone of Mr Miliband’s rhetoric on the radio the other day, I think the result is a foregone conclusion.
Instead of planning wind farms all over Britain, would it not be better government policy to encourage people to use less electricity? Why don’t they impose a massive levy on electric toothbrushes, razors, fan heaters, spin driers, and all the gadgets given out this Christmas? Tax credits for people who use less power could be another incentive. But concreting over some of the most unique parts of the countryside with sub-stations for “green” energy is a disastrous solution.
By Janet Street-Porter
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