The debate over windfarms in Tynedale was re-ignited this week with the opening of a public consultation into three controversial planning applications.
Wind Prospect Developments Ltd, Amec Project Investments Ltd and Steadings Windfarm Ltd have proposed erecting turbines in the Knowesgate area.
Objections have come from many quarters, including local residents’ groups, councils and even the Ministry of Defence.
David Rose, a chartered town planner representing the Secretary of State, will now oversee the inquiry, which is expected to last several months.
Although applications were made separately, they are being dealt with together as there are many common issues.
Applicants have now started calling witnesses to offer evidence on their behalf. A total of eight official objectors will also be represented.
Throughout the process, particular attention will be paid to a number of identified issues, including planning and development policies, renewable energy targets, choice of site, noise, and visual impact.
Aviation concerns are also likely to play a significant role, as evidence will be offered suggesting windfarms interfere with radars.
At a well-attended meeting on Tuesday, all parties made their opening submissions.
Starting proceedings was Andrew Newcombe, counsel for Steadings Wind Farm, which proposes that 21 turbines be erected in Kirkwhelpington.
“Inevitably, public inquiries tend to concentrate on grappling with matters raised by objectors,” he said.
“Those members of the public who are neutral and are not moved to object, and indeed those who support the proposed developments, can all too easily to be forgotten.”
Mr Newcombe said Knowesgate had been identified as suitable for medium scale development and, in an argument in common with the other developers, highlighted the Government’s climate change targets.
“The region is not performing well in terms of meeting even the 2010 minimum for the provision of energy from renewable sources,” he said.
“There is a clear and urgent need within the region even before one starts to look further afield.”
The proposal complied with planning policies and was a “carefully and sensitively designed scheme”. Steadings was still seeking to resolve aviation issues, he added.
William Norris QC spoke for Amec, which wants to erect 20 turbines on the Ray Estate.
The company, he said, had taken the “very usual” step of opting out of full involvement in the inquiry.
It would not, from that point on, be legally represented, he explained. Nor would it represent itself.
The move was the result of a perceived U-turn in the stance of the MoD, which had earlier supported the proposals but now cited aviation concerns.
Tynedale Council’s assertion, meanwhile, that the development could “compromise the safety of our armed forces” was “pure hyperbole and absolute rubbish” for which it had offered no evidence of its own, he said.
The visual impact of the scheme would be localised and the effect on two “minor” archeological sites would be “direct but insignificant”.
Speaking for Wind Prospect Developments, which wants 18 turbines at Green Rigg Fell, Vincent Fraser QC likewise claimed heritage sites would not be affected.
The principal issue, he argued, was the impact on Great Wanney Crag Scheduled Ancient Monument, a hillfort.
The development “would not isolate the monument from its surroundings or obscure views of the monument from within its immediate setting”.
He added that aviation concerns were minor as “the MoD appear to have overestimated the impact of the Green Rigg proposal upon its radar systems”.
In regard to issues of visual, historical and environmental impact, the inquiry heard objections from Northumberland County Council, Northumberland National Park Authority and the residents’ group Credit, which is arguing that the proposals will “open the floodgates”.
Kirkwhelpington resident Bill Short will be representing himself throughout, calling for the “wider view” to be considered instead of a “gung-ho” enthusiasm for onshore wind turbine projects.
The MoD, Newcastle International Airport, NATS (En Route) PLC air traffic management and Tynedale District Council, meanwhile, are objecting on aviation grounds.
In the coming months, witnesses from all parties will be called to give evidence.
It is expected that closing statements will be made in the first week of April, after which a decision will be issued on whether the applications can proceed.
By Robert Gibson
18 January 2008
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