Legal bills that run into hundreds of thousands of pounds could put pressure on councils to back unwanted wind turbine developments, protesters fear.
Tynedale Council have set aside £200,000 to pay for an inquiry that is to be held into three wind farm planning applications in the district.
The council is facing the inquiry because it objected to the proposals, but objectors in other areas fear their councils may feel pressured into passing proposals because of the cost of going to an inquiry.
Peter Bennet is a member of the Friends of the Wanneys protest group, set up to oppose the turbines in the north Tynedale area.
He said: “It certainly seems like an awful lot of money and of course it is all public money.
I am appalled that the planning authorities have to be drawn into this enormous expense against companies that can afford it much more easily.”
The estimated bill for Tynedale Council is the maximum the inquiry, likely to be held early next year, would cost and includes £150,000 in legal fees and £50,000 in landscape consultant fees.
Tynedale is the first council to officially estimate the cost of the inquiries, but Berwick Borough Council, Alnwick District Council and Castle Morpeth Borough Council could all face similarly hefty bills at future inquiries if they object to the proposals.
The Tynedale applications were submitted by separate developers for wind farms at sites in Green Rigg Fell at Birtley, Steadings at Kirkwhelpington and Ray Fell near Kirkwhelpington.
Tynedale Council leader Michael Walton said: “If the council planning committee makes a decision for good and proper reasons then the council is honour bound to try to back them up.
“These figures are the maximum that it will cost because we don’t know if the inquiry will last for four weeks or 10 weeks.
“At least the three applications will be considered together and everybody will have their chance to put their point across.”
Earlier this year the council resolved to refuse planning permission for the Green Rigg application and to object to the Steadings and Ray Fell applications.
No definite date has been given for the start of the inquiry or how long it will last, but the council’s legal service department estimates that the final hearings are likely to take place next Spring.
The council is currently negotiating with potential legal representatives to agree terms of appointment and fee levels.
Mr Bennet added: “It seems the system is unfair and slated against the protesters.
“I am pretty sure that the development companies will be able to afford more than that.
“It is not a level playing field and is a tremendous drain on public resources and rules out the ordinary individual.”
A wind farm application at North Charlton, near Alnwick, will also go to a public inquiry later this year.
Frank Dakin, who turned down £6m from a developer who wanted to put turbines on his farm in Duddo, north Northumberland, said: “It isn’t fair that the councils have to use tax payers’ money to pay for it. It seems ridiculous.
“It is a big problem because some councils simply haven’t got the money. It is a horrendous situation.”
by Ben Guy
30 July 2007
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