Campaigners opposing plans to build an eco-village in an area of natural beauty have vowed to keep fighting despite losing the latest stage of their battle.
Claymoss Properties has won planning permission for two 60-metre masts at Maer Hills, near Newcastle, which protesters see as the first step in building a wind farm and 800 holiday lodges on the site.
Government planning inspector Andrew Pykett has overturned Newcastle Borough Council’s decision last year to refuse permission following an appeal from the applicants.
But residents fighting the scheme say the real battle will be to prevent the wider development of the site.
Alan Parton, pictured, chairman of Maer Hills Protection Group, said: “We appreciate the inspector had to look objectively at the planning issues, but nevertheless there is a large number of people who believe that the development, of which this is the first step, is inappropriate. The hills are fine as they are.
“The decision is disappointing, but I’m sure it will only make people even more determined to make sure that with the next stage, democracy will prevail.
“It would have been simpler if the appeal had gone our way, but nothing is going to happen at this stage that is going to spoil the area permanently, as the proposed development would do.
“The public footpath will still be there and people will still be able to appreciate the beauty of the area, although there will be a couple of strange-looking metal poles. But in 12 months’ time they will be removed.”
Claymoss eventually hopes to build a holiday eco-village in the woodlands at Maer Hills, consisting of 800 lodges, two hotels and a golf course.
The proposals also include four wind turbines, which would provide electricity for the scheme, with enough power left over to power thousands of homes in Newcastle.
The two temporary masts will allow the company to measure wind speeds in the area and then calculate how much electricity could be generated by a wind farm.
More than 600 residents in surrounding areas wrote to the council objecting to the mast application, and in December the planning committee refused it.
Committee members believed the masts would cause unacceptable damage to the landscape, spoil views, and could also damage wildlife habitats.
However, the planning inspector did not share these views.
Mr Pykett said: “In any event, I consider the tall and slim design of the masts would complement the similar characteristic of the trees.
“Similarly, I believe the necessary guy ropes would be obscured to a significant extent by the surrounding trees.
“I conclude that from near distances the masts would have little effect on the character and appearance of their surroundings.”
The inspector also explained that permission for the masts could not be refused, because of wider objections to the village and wind farm which would be considered in a different application.
A spokesman for Claymoss said: “We are delighted with the decision made by the Planning Inspectorate.
“The decision is in line with national planning guidance as well as current government policy and Claymoss Properties is glad that the inspectorate recognises the importance of testing for the viability of renewable energy and technology.”
Newcastle MP Paul Farrelly was among the protesters.
He said: “Clearly the inspector’s decision allows these masts to go ahead. It is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean that the leisure village is going to go ahead. It is a quirk of planning law that they have to treat each application separately.
“Hundreds of people think the development would spoil an area of outstanding natural beauty in Newcastle.
“We don’t need inappropriate development like this in the borough, whether it goes by a trendy name like eco-village or not.”
By Phil Corrigan
13 October 2006
Maer Hills Protection Group: savemaerhills.co.uk