An independent report that could open the door to a series of small-scale windfarms across Tynedale has been published.
And the first planning application it could influence is the one from npower renewables to install a number of 360ft high turbines at Kiln Pit Hill.
Commissioned by the North-East Assembly, engineering and environmental consultants Arup have been assessing potential sites for windfarms.
Their findings will influence planning decisions on small-scale windfarm proposals for Tynedale and the region as a whole.
In its first pronouncement, published on Wednesday, Arup decrees that Kiln Pit Hill is, indeed, an appropriate spot for a cluster of turbines.
However, its recommendation ““ that one small windfarm with an output less than 7.5 megawatts be allowed ““ is substantially less than npower has in mind.
Last year, in the face of opposition from local residents, npower applied to Tynedale Council for permission to construct six turbines capable of producing a total of 12 megawatts.
Objector Michelle Eagle felt there was a glimmer of hope in Arup’s recommendation.
“If this report is saying there could be three or four turbines there at most, then that will surely put the damper on things for npower,” she said.
“Is the site really going to be viable for them?
“I hope not, because when residents in this area were surveyed, 97 per cent of them objected to the proposal.
“There were also multiple objections from statutory consultees, including English Heritage.
“It objected strongly to the impact the turbines would have on the historic, Grade I Listed St Andrew’s Church nearby.
“The church and its mausoleum look straight over the proposed site.”
The North-East Assembly’s aim in commissioning Arup’s surveys was to introduce a measure of objectivity into the windfarm debate.
Arup’s main criteria is the impact a development will have on the surrounding landscape.
Its methodology won a highly commended award for strategic landscape planning in the Landscape Institute’s 2006 awards.
The North-East Assembly’s deputy chief executive, Malcolm Bowes, said: “This cutting edge study provides an objective assessment of the impact that windfarm development would have on the Kiln Pit Hill landscape.
“It has concluded that extensive development is not appropriate.
“Whilst we are committed to ensuring that the region plays a positive part in contributing to tackling global climate change, we have to balance this against unacceptable landscape impacts.”
However, several wind power developers, including npower renewables itself, have questioned Arup’s narrow focus.
While it concentrates on landscape, the developers’ own environmental impact assessments tackle around 35 issues, including the impact on local ecology, environment, tourism and traffic.
“Our own environmental impact assessments take us three years for a specific site, whereas these guys are trying to cover a whole county in a fraction of the time,” said one development manager.
Tynedale Council has been awaiting the outcome of the study before considering the Kiln Pit Hill application.
Director of planning, Helen Winter, said: “The application for a windfarm at Kiln Pit Hill will be carefully considered against national, regional, sub-regional and local planning policies.
“As part of this process we will look closely at the environmental impact assessment and other evidence provided by the developer, statutory consultees and the local community.
“What this study adds is an objective insight into the capacity of the surrounding area to absorb this type of development.”
npower’s project manager at Kiln Pit Hill, Joanna Thompson, said: “Until we have time to consider the report and its conclusions in full, relative to our own detailed environmental impact assessment, it would be inappropriate for us to make further comment.”
By Helen Compson
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