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The case for turbines

Norfolk should rewrite the planning rulebook to make it easier for wind farms to be built in the county.

That was the plea from the man in charge of the county’s environment policies after his council colleagues opposed plans for six 120m tall wind turbines at the Ecotech Centre at Swaffham on visual grounds.

Ian Monson, cabinet member for the environment, spoke out against his own authority’s stance adding it needed to make it easier for turbines to be built to help reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Monson comments came a day after the county’s leading fire fighter called for a contingency fund to cope with the rising costs of extreme weather events – such as the spate of field fires during last year’s summer heatwave and winter flooding.

But the councillor’s call is likely to provoke a clash with campaigners opposed to wind turbine developments, amid fears that any loosening of the system would pave the way for more schemes and destroy the county’s famed open skies landscape.

Hilary Battye, from the ‘Showt’ campaign (Stop Hempnall’s Onshore Wind Turbines) in south Norfolk said she was opposed to any loosening of the planning system. But she felt central government should intervene to replace to produce a more standardised set of rules as the current procedures were too haphazard.

“We would certainly not be looking to make the planning system easier,” she said. “There should be something at the central level which is more cohesive than is currently the case.

“It’s about protecting all of our landscape and we need to look at all forms of renewable energy.”

Norfolk currently has five onshore wind farms: at Somerton and Blood Hill, near Yarmouth; two at Swaffham and one at North Pickenham. Planning applications for two more, at Swaffham and Shipdham, near Dereham, have been submitted.

County councillors were being asked to give their views on the latest Swaffham proposal by energy firm Ecotricity, as part of a consultation by Breckland district council.

The firm currently operates two giant turbines and says the additional structures would help provide clean energy to around 9,500 homes.

Officers said the scheme should be opposed on strategic grounds because of the impact the turbines would have on the Nar-Ouse valley and nearby Castle Acre.

But Mr Monson said the landscape was already distorted by overhead electricity pylons in the area.

The councillor, who represents the county on the Ecotech board, said he would not take part in the vote after declaring his interest.

But he told the meeting that the authority needed to look at its policy for strategic objections to wind turbines because it was years out of date and failed to take into account the impact of climate change.

“It’s extremely important that we do allow renewable energy generation in all ways to be allowed to take place in Norfolk,” he said.

“Wind energy is the most practical way of doing this at the moment.

“The structure plan is outdated and we should like to be able to encourage wind turbines, because after all the energy created by them is going to help with the reduction of carbon (emissions),” he added.

The government has set a target to generate 10pc of the UK’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 and to double that figure a decade later.

Mr Monson added: “We should look at our policy for strategic objections to wind turbines. There’s an awful lot in the pipeline in the near future all around Norfolk and I think we should review our policy.”

But he was outflanked by his Conservative colleagues who lined up to object to the proposals.

Marcus Armes, from the Norfolk-based CRed carbon reduction campaign, supported moves for a change in the planning criteria.

“It is disappointing that there seems to be a kind of Nimby approach whenever an application comes forward for land-based turbines,” he said. “However, it is absolutely crucial that developers are open with the public from the start and consult as broadly as possible.

“From the point of view of security of supply and tackling climate change we need to make it as efficient as possible to generate energy from sustainable sources. With this in mind, tipping the planning regulations in favour of renewable developments is very welcome.”

James Beal, managing director of Renewables East, established to champion renewable energy in the East of England, said: “The planning system needs to be slightly faster, but I think there is a lack of understanding which holds things up. We need to respect the locations in which these things come up as well.”


2 May 2007