THE risk of air collisions would increase if plans to build 59 wind turbines close to three radars in Northumberland are approved, the opening of a public inquiry heard yesterday.
The Ministry of Defence and Newcastle International Airport (NIA) say structures at three separate wind farms proposed in Tynedale would all be in direct line of sight of their air traffic control radars.
They claim the presence of turbines would impact on the operation of those radars – adding to the risk of collisions for pilots and passengers. The three-month inquiry, at Newcastle Airport’s Britannia Hotel, was told that there is a “history of incidents” in the busy air space close to where the wind farms are proposed.
This is used by commercial craft from the airport as well as planes from RAF Spadedam and the Otterburn Ranges.
Thomas Hill, speaking for NIA, said: “At the heart of NIA’s objections to the proposed 60 wind turbines is a profound concern to do everything within its power to maintain the highest possible levels of safety in the airspace for which it has responsibilities.
“Ultimately the interest which it is seeking to protect is that of human life. It has concluded that each and all of the proposals before this inquiry have the potential to increase the risks to the safe operation of airspace and, in consequence, to human life acceptably.” The MoD told planning inspector David Rose that RAF Spadeadam is the only base in the UK used for training pilots in evading missiles and one of only two in Europe. It has two radars which are used to guide pilots which would be affected by turbines.
The companies seeking to build the wind farms were, meanwhile, critical of the MoD over its late change in stance.
Amec Project Investments Ltd, which is looking to build 20 125-metre turbines at the Ray Estate, said the ministry had raised no objection to its plans, which date back to 1993, until September of last year.
Representative William Norris accused the ministry of performing a U-turn with the explanation for its change in view said to be the “very feeblest and most insubstantial of smokescreens”.
Mr Norris told how his client had asked for an adjournment of the inquiry following several unsuccessful requests to the MoD for more information on its objection.
This was turned down and the company has opted only to play a limited part in the hearing as a result. Mr Norris added: “Whether the MoD’s conduct is the product of arrogance, complacency or incompetence is hard to say. But it has made the proper conduct of business in this inquiry simply impossible for us.”
The company also hit out at Tynedale Council, claiming it had jumped on the bandwagon by objecting on the basis that the turbines would compromise the training of the armed forces.
Mr Norris accused the authority of opposing the plans on grounds it had not thought of and did not understand, and of “bolstering its opposition by wrapping it in the national flag”. He described the council’s view as “hyperbole” and “absolute rubbish”. Yet Tynedale hit back by insisting Amec’s decision to play only a bit part in the inquiry indicates it has given up on its application.
The three applicants pointed out the contribution their schemes would make to meeting renewable energy targets and highlighted Northumberland’s poor performance in that area.
They also mentioned a document which identifies all three sites as being within an area of least constraint for wind farm development. But objectors say the three developments would have a negative impact on the countryside, both separately and cumulatively.
The hearing continues.
Battle lines drawn on the landscape
THE inquiry was convened to consider the impacts of Amec Project Investments Ltd’s bid to erect 20 turbines at Ray Estate, Wind Prospect Developments Ltd’s application for 18 60m structures at Green Rigg Fell, Birtley, and Steadings Wind Farm Ltd’s proposals for 21 at Steadings, Kirkwhelpington.
The Green Rigg application is an appeal following Tynedale Council’s non-determination while the other two must be decided by the Secretary of State, given their size.
Making representations at the inquiry will be the three applicants, Tynedale Council, Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park Authority, the MoD, Newcastle Airport, aviation body NATS (En- Route) and the Campaign for Responsible Energy Development in Tynedale.
Also appearing will be Steadings Landowners Association, the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, Throcklington Parochial Church Council, Elsdon Parish Council and Kirkwhelpington Parish Council.
MoD takes case-by-case approach
THE Ministry of Defence has insisted objections to wind farms are taken on a “case-by- case” basis but is in “discussion” with regional officials over a revised planning blueprint.
Defence Minister Derek Twigg also said a decision to object to one project did not “automatically” relate to another.
His comments come after Berwick MP Alan Beith raised the issue with the MoD in light of last-minute objections at a public inquiry to a recent wind farm application in Middlemoor, north of Alnwick.
Mr Beith asked whether the department’s grounds for objection applied to other proposed sites in parts of the county identified in the regional planning strategy as areas of “least constraint”.
A question about whether any modification to the blueprint was being proposed to meet defence operational requirements was also raised by Mr Beith. Mr Twigg, who replied in a Commons written answer, said: “The decision whether or not to object to a planning application for one or more wind turbines is taken on a case-by-case basis and the decision in one case does not automatically relate to another.
“The key issues are whether proposed turbines will affect Ministry of Defence interests such as operations and safety, and, if they do, whether the predicted effects will be manageable.” Speaking later, Mr Beith said: “I raised this question with the Minister because the Ministry of Defence’s intervention in the public inquiry was made so late on in the process.
“An earlier intervention could have saved a great deal of time, money and effort. If it is the case that wind farms in Northumberland would be a threat to the safety of RAF operations, and our security, then it would have been helpful to have that information earlier in the process.”
By Brian Daniel
16 January 2008
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