The impact on the local community is obvious: “It’s hit us like a freight train,” says school dinner lady Karen Freestone. “One minute you are trundling along with life, the next you’re dealing with this.”
What has caused such disquiet? The prospect of nine wind turbines taller than Big Ben being erected at Berrier on the edge of the Lake District National Park – rising against the evocative silhouette of Blencathra.
Mrs Freestone and other residents from Berrier and surrounding villages including Greystoke and Mungrisdale, will today launch Berrier Wind Farm Opposition Group. They will hold the group’s first formal meeting tonight at Mungrisdale village hall.
The application has been made by Berrier Hill Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Flintshire-based West Coast Energy Ltd, the company which brought the controversial Whinash wind farm proposal which was eventually turned down after a public enquiry.
Eden District Council is in the process of considering the Berrier application.
The wind energy company says the turbines would produce enough green electricity to power 12,581 homes, and argues that they would be appropriately sited outside the boundary of the national park.
Opponents have already attracted some high profile supporters including mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington. But for many of the local villagers this is their first taste of campaigning.
“It’s all happened so fast,” said Mrs Freestone, who has lived in Berrier for 17 years.
“We didn’t have the [campaign] group in time for the consultation deadline. We are in the process of setting everything up.”
“Virtually everybody was against it and the parish council was unanimous in its decision to oppose it.”
Residents were not given enough warning, she says. “The application was already in by the time we knew about it, and it was in the middle of August when a lot of people were on holiday.
“We had three weeks to object. The company has had two years to prepare. I think that’s what’s so upsetting. We feel as if we have been treated as irrelevant.”
Mrs Freestone says her biggest concern is that the wind turbines will ruin the beauty of the local landscape – and if any argument against the development is galvanising opposition it seems to be this one.
“There is a visual impact on Blencathra which is iconic to thousands and thousands of people. It will be the first thing that people will see when they come down the A66 to the Lake District.
“I absolutely have sympathy with the need for sustainable energy but there are some parts of the countryside which deserve to be preserved.
She denies being a Nimby (Not In My Back Yard): “It is my back yard and I’m incredibly proud of it but it’s also this nation’s back yard.”
Quietly spoken resident Jean Pearson added: “There is quiet determination that this thing should be stopped. It is totally in the wrong place.”
Sir Chris Bonington, the Caldbeck-based mountaineer and writer, says he will do his “utmost” to help villagers fight the plan.
“I’m absolutely appalled by it. It is very similar to Whinash,” he said.
Sir Chris said he supports wind farms “in the right place”, but each one should be assessed to weigh up the advantages in terms of energy produced against the “visual pollution and sound pollution” caused.
“I have seen an awful lot of beautiful places, but whether it’s the grandeur of the Himalayas to the beauty of Antarctica, the Lakes it still the most beautiful to me,” he said. “It’s not just about aesthetics, it also comes down to the livelihoods of a lot of people and it’s the beauty of the Lake District that brings the tourists in.”
David Maclean, MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “It is a grotesque idea which will destroy Blencathra.
“This is the only application I have seen which affects the national park visually. Technically the foundations are outside the national park but from 10ft upwards it impacts visually on the national park – they will be seen from miles and miles within the park.
“They will affect the whole vista of Blencathra for 20 miles around. You will be able to sit in Penrith and look across and they will be blocking the view.”
The turbines will be sited 700 yards from the park boundary, he said. Mr Maclean wants to see other forms of renewable energy developed in Cumbria including solar, small scale hydro-electric turbines in becks and streams, and the development of nuclear power at Sellafield.
He also argues the government should be pushing better home insulation. “If we insulate homes properly we will save 30 per cent of the nation’s energy,” he said.
Samantha Crosby, planning and development manager with West Coast Energy Ltd, said the company had chosen this site after considering a range of factors.
“An important one is whether we think we can get planning permission. Within Cumbria’s supplementary planning document called Wind Energy in Cumbria, the area is allocated as suitable for accommodating wind farms of up to nine turbines.
“We then look at wind speed, landscape, ecology, geology, water courses and archaeology.”
The wind farm could be built within 12 months of it receiving the go-ahead from planners, she said.
The company also has a study carried out – by an independent group – into the impact on the landscape, she said. This uses predetermined criteria to come to an “objective assessment”.
She has visited the Berrier site “many times”, she said.
“Our conclusions are, on balance, weighing up all the factors – environmental, social and economic – that the benefits outweigh the impact it causes.”
Malcolm Johnson, principal development control officer for Eden District Council, said the planning applications committee is not likely to make its decision until next year, possibly in February.
Although the national statutory public consultation is set at 21 days, the council will accept written views up until just before the final decision is made, he said.
In addition to collecting public responses the council consults with a range of other interested groups such as Natural England, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, before making its decision.
The council must also consult with National Air Traffic Control, as wind turbines can show up on radar.
Although technically the council has 13 weeks to decide, the extensive consultation and assessment required means it cannot be done in that time and the council will seek an extension from the company, he said.
“To the public there’s this stage where it would appear it has become rather moribund but it hasn’t because we are constantly receiving documents. It’s a long process and necessarily so,” said Mr Johnson. “I have to say, I’m surprised by the relatively low level of the response to it so far. The last response we got was on September 5 which brought it to 68 letters from the public.
“Having said that I would rather have one well organised letter of objection than 300 just saying, I object to this. Anyone can object, but what are your reasons? That’s what we want to know.”
Approximately six letters submitted to the council so far are in support of the proposal, he said.
n To comment on the Berrier Hill wind turbine proposal write to: Assistant Director of Planning, Eden District Council, Mansion House, Penrith, CA11 7YG.
n To contact Berrier Wind Farm Opposition Group call Jean Pearson on 01768 483334.
n See the full planning application and comment at Eden District Council’s website on http://eforms.eden.gov.uk/fastweb/detail.asp?AltRef=07/0636&ApplicationN
n West Coast Energy Ltd website – www.westcoastenergy.co.uk
24 September 2007