Vital low-flying training for RAF fighter crews in the region will be jeopardised if plans for three wind farms in Northumberland are given the go-ahead, it was claimed last night.
The Ministry of Defence has formally objected to the three separate bids, which involve the erection of almost 60 giant turbines at Green Rigg Fell on the North Tyne, the Ray Estate near Kirkwhelpington and at nearby Steadings.
MoD chiefs say the wind farms would have an “unacceptable impact” on flying operations controlled by the radar surveillance system at RAF Spadeadam on the Northumberland/Cumbria border.
The base is the UK’s only electronic warfare tactics range and is used to train RAF aircrews to evade radar-guided missiles and survive in hostile environments by using low-flying manoeuvres.
The MoD says it “strongly objects” to the three proposed wind farms as they will jeopardise the vital training facility which RAF Spadeadam provides.
It has voiced its opposition in an outline statement submitted to a public inquiry to be held early next year, which will determine all three bids by Amec Project Investments (Ray Estate), the Banks Group (Steadings) and Wind Prospect Developments (Green Rigg Fell).
Last night it was also revealed that air safety fears have led to objections from Newcastle Airport and air traffic control and management company NATS.
Along with the MoD, they say the 125m-high turbines will create “clutter” on radar screens and potentially conceal the presence of real aircraft.
Last night a pressure group opposing the scale and impact of the three developments said the MoD’s intervention meant either the RAF training at Spadeadam had to stop or the turbines could not be built, as there could be no compromise on air safety.
Today, a pre-inquiry meeting will be held in Hexham to pave the way for the full public inquiry into the three applications.
Newcastle Airport’s outline statement says each of the schemes is “highly likely” to interfere with its radar system.
“Newcastle Airport considers that all three proposals will have an unacceptable impact, both individually and cumulatively, on the safe and appropriate radar coverage at the airport,” it adds.
Last night Carol Brodie of Great Bavington, who chairs CREDIT (Campaign for Responsible Energy Development in Tynedale), said: “Local people have consistently raised the issue of military low flying in close proximity to wind turbines.
“Anyone who spends any time in this area knows that military aircraft fly through the proposed wind farm sites at low level almost every day, often several times a day and sometimes after dark.
“Common sense should have told the wind farm developers that we cannot have aircraft flying at 100ft in constrained airspace at very high speeds, having to avoid 400ft wind turbines in their path.
“The situation is further exacerbated by the adverse effects which wind turbines have on radar performance. Either the flying needs to stop or the turbines don’t get built. There can be no compromise with safety of aircrews, air passengers and the people on the ground.
“Despite all the assertions of the developers to the contrary, it is self-evident that these initial statements from the MOD, NATS and Newcastle Airport to the public inquiry show that the aviation issues are far from being resolved.”
None of the applicants could be contacted for comment yesterday.
Peter Bennet of Bellingham, from the Friends of the Wanneys protest group, added: “Local people are very concerned about the safety angle in all this because the RAF test flights are extremely low. Building these wind farms is going to leave a very narrow corridor for them to operate in and the risk of serious accidents must be high.”
By Dave Black
17 September 2007