Determined villagers have won their titanic battle against a renewable energy giant over plans to build a huge wind farm near an ancient beauty spot.
A Government planning inspector has rejected Ecotricity’s proposals to build five 120-metre tall turbines near tranquil Brent Knoll, Somerset.
The plan would have led to the huge wind farm dwarfing nearby landmark the Knoll, a historic hill with unique views across the Somerset Levels. Ecotricity said its plan would have revolutionised energy production in Somerset.
Emotions ran high at a marathon three-week public inquiry held last summer after Ecotricity appealed against Sedgemoor District Council’s original decision to reject the plans in 2006.
Inspector Robin Brooks’ decision was originally due in November but after nearly five months of waiting the decision will be cause for celebration for villagers in Brent Knoll, who were at the forefront of the protests.
Huge public opposition
The plans split opinion in the county and since they were unveiled in 2006, huge public opposition has been mounted against Ecotricity in the form of kNOll to Wind Farm, which managed to recruit celebrity supporters and raise tens of thousands of pounds to spur a legal battle.
While kNOll to Wind Farm’s prominent protests won the battle in the end, there were also several environmental groups which supported Ecotricity’s belief in renewable energy.
Mr Brooks says in his 35-page report that he supports campaigners’ opinions that views across the picturesque Levels, a tourist attraction in itself, would be permanently harmed by the development.
IN the report he says: “I conclude that the appeal proposal would be harmfully intrusive in the landscape seen from Brent Knoll hill, from the Levels between there and Burnham-on-Sea and from certain more distant viewpoints in which hill and turbines would be seen together.
“That most of the harm would occur within a relatively limited area would not render it acceptable, given the sensitive character of the landscape and its value for recreation.” However the inspector did agree with Ecotricity that the wind farm would have made a substantial contribution to regional energy needs and said the company rightly argued that even a small development would help the national agenda for a move towards cleaner energy.
However, in the report’s conclusion he also adds: “I have also borne in mind the very real dangers that climate change itself could pose to the landscapes in which such proposals would be sited.
“However, national considerations are to a large extent the sum total of a myriad of local concerns, among them conservation of cherished landscapes, buildings and monuments.
“Action for the future must involve quality of life issues as well as utilitarian decisions.
“In this case I consider that the objections in terms of impact on the character of the local landscape and on the settings of St Michael’s Church and Brent Knoll Hill Fort are compelling.
“My overall conclusion is that the appeal should be dismissed.”
A spokesman for Sedgemoor District Council said: “We are pleased that the planning inspectorate agreed with the original decision of the council’s development control committee; it was the right development in the wrong location. The scheme particularly detracted from the village of Brent Knoll and the Knoll itself and the inspector rightly recognised this in his report.
“Sedgemoor District Council supports alternative forms of energy but these should be in appropriate locations where their impact is kept to a minimum.”
By Paul Burton
16 January 2008
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