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National security 'under threat'

A wind farm planned for moors near Alnwick could jeopardise national security, according to Ministry of Defence counter-terrorism experts.

Wing Commander Rayna Owens, whose duties include protecting the UK against airborne attacks, will present her evidence at the Middlemoor public inquiry, now being held at the Northumberland Hall, Alnwick.

She will be accompanied by Squadron Leader Chris Breedon, one of a handful of experts in air defence, who will state the MoD’s objections to the plan.

Advocates for energy company npower renewables and Alnwick District Council made their opening statements on Tuesday, in what looks set to be an epic 12-day battle over the controversial proposals.

The 18-turbine scheme, which if approved by the Secretary of State could operate for the next 25 years, would take 12 months to build and supply enough power for nearly 28,000 homes.

But there are massive objections to the plan, covering everything from impact on the landscape to the potential threat to tourism and even future film-making in the area.

One of the biggest threats to Middlemoor, however, is from the MoD, which has serious concerns about the possible effects of the turbines on its systems at both RAF Boulmer and the remote radar head (RRH) at Brizlee Wood, near Alnwick. Both stations are vital parts of the nation’s air defence network, linking to other sites across the country.

In statements already submitted to the inquiry, Sqn Ldr Breedon states: “The 18 wind turbines would be in direct line of sight of the radar at RRH Brizlee Wood, an important element of the UK Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS).

“In that location they would have a significant and unacceptable impact on the efficacy of the radar at Brizlee Wood.”

The result of the wind farm, says the MoD, would be to cause clutter on air traffic controllers’ screens – effectively blinding them from potential threats.

And it could also have major implications for low-flying jets which train across the region on a daily basis, including the risk of mid-air collisions.

A statement from Sqn Ldr Matt Wood, of the Air Surveillance and Control System Force Command (ASACS) Headquarters, based at RAF Boulmer, adds that faulty returns from the radar could also delay a response to a terror attack.

He states: “The significance of the low-level radar cover provided by the ASACS has risen markedly as a result of the terrorist events of September 11, 2001.

“Consequently, the MoD is extremely concerned with any proposed wind-turbine development which could have an impact on the ASACS system, both radars and command and control.”

And he adds: “There is a strong possibility that the effect of the proposed sites will prevent the timely identification or maintenance of track identity of aircraft, which may be the subject of tactical action under counter-terrorism operations.

“Therefore, the MoD strongly objects to the proposed wind farm as it will jeopardise both air surveillance and the safe control of aircraft.”

npower plans to cross-examine all MoD witnesses after they give their evidence, claiming that mitigating techniques to reduce the impact on radar sites are available.

The company also says it is prepared to agree not to raise any turbines on site until the Secretary of State for Defence is satisfied that any adverse effects were reduced to an acceptable level.

By Robert Brooks

Northumberland Gazette

17 November 2007