November 8, 2007

Energy firm slated at turbine meeting

Green energy company Enertrag has been slated for failing to attend a public meeting to discuss the firm’s proposal for a seven-turbine windfarm at Hempnall.

Called by the parish council on Friday, the meeting was designed to give people the opportunity to air their views and ask questions about the 130m-high turbines.

Among those raising concerns at the packed village hall were South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon and members of protest group Showt.

Mr Bacon said: “It is a great disappointment to me that Enertrag cannot be bothered to turn up.

“If there’s really nothing to worry about, you would think they’d be looking for every single opportunity and here there are 200 people present. I think that speaks volumes about their attitude.

“There is increasing doubt now about the strength of the case for wind turbines. On economy of scale the best place to have them is offshore.”

Hilary Battye, of Showt, told the meeting: “The visual impact of these giant industrial structures on the local rural landscape would be quite unacceptable.

“South Norfolk Council’s own policy and planning guidance acknowledges that, in terms of visual intrusion, such an area would be highly sensitive to wind turbines of this size.”

She said they would be clearly seen from Hempnall and surrounding villages.

Farmer Jane Davis played a recording of the noise of a nearby wind farm that has forced her family to abandon their Lincoln-shire home and move into rented accommodation five miles away.

“We are here to demonstrate the devastating effect of wind turbines when they are near to homes.

“In the east of England, because of static air conditions, you get this whoomph, whoomph. It’s the helicopter effect,” she explained.

Experts at the MoD now object to about half of onshore wind turbines because of concerns that they affect radar.

But a ministry spokesman told the Mercury it was unable to comment on the Hempnall proposal until official planning permission was sought.

Speaking this week, Enertrag’s project engineer, Terry Chapelhow, said they had advised the parish council in advance of their decision not to attend.

“We find from past experience that these meetings turn into a public circus, and are hijacked. We feel we have done adequate consultation with people at various exhibitions in the area.

People on both sides of the fence can come and talk to us, and we have got our site at North Pickenham.

“We say come and see and judge for yourselves,” he said.

The Diss-based company was granted consent for a meteorological mast at the site earlier this year, and Mr Chapelhow said they would submit a planning application after Christmas.

ENERTRAG is taking legal advice over comments made by Mr Bacon at the meeting.

It claims his comments were defamatory and says it has written to the MP to give him the opportunity to issue a full retraction of the statement.

This week the firm said: “Enertrag UK refer to comments made by the Rt Hon Richard Bacon during a publicly advertised meeting called by Hempnall Parish Council on November 2, 2007. Enertrag notified Hempnall Parish Council of the reasons for not wishing to attend the meeting on October 9, 2007.

“The statement by MP Richard Bacon is defamatory to Enertrag UK Ltd who are currently taking legal advice on this matter.”

But Mr Bacon said: “I have not seen Enertrag’s letter. However, I find it extraordinary that they should contemplate legal action. It is not customary to sue the local MP for doing his job and saying what constituents think.

“The meeting in Hempnall village hall was an excellent opportunity for Enertrag to put their case to a large number of people and I regret that they chose not to attend.”

Sarah Webb, head of media and libel at Russell, Jones and Walker solicitors in London said that while newspaper reports of public meetings are protected from defamation through qualified privilege as long as they are fair and accurate, it would still be possible for a claim to be brought against someone who was considered to have made defamatory comments at the meeting under slander law.

Mark Stephens, a libel law specialist at Finers Stephens Innocent in London added: “Slander is much more difficult to prove than libel. You would have to show some financial loss, and I don’t think they would be able to do that.”

Diss Mercury

8 November 2007

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