A nationally important Cornish landscape is at risk from a £5 million wind farm, a packed public inquiry heard yesterday.
In what could be a landmark case, the hearing was told the plan for turbines at Morwenstow could seriously damage adjoining areas, one designated as of great landscape value and the other an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The first day of the appeal, by Crimp Wind Power Ltd against a decision by North Cornwall District Council refusing planning permission, also heard the turbines would threaten the habitat of several rare species of bat.
Moira Hankinson, a chartered landscape designer who carried out a visual assessment and audit for North Cornwall District Council said the development would be “entirely out of character with the narrow wooded valleys and winding lanes”.
She said: “It is a fragile landscape which needs care. But the appeal site adjoins an Area of Great Landscape Value as well as being close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Morwenstow is one of the most sensitive sites in Cornwall.
“People visiting AONBs expect to see the best landscapes in England and these turbines would be a large scale incongruous feature.
“The turbines, at 81 metres tall, are the whole scale of the vertical depth of this landscape. The character of the coastal plateau would be eroded and national assets would be compromised by the significant adverse affect on the AONB.”
She said that while national policy supports renewable energy, such development was not permitted where it would adversely affect local landscape of national value.
She also drew on a survey prepared for Cornwall County Council on the possible siting of wind farms, which gave the area around Crimp as having the second highest degree of sensitivity to wind turbines and said that also demonstrated the area’s unsuitability for the development.
The inquiry also heard from Ian Crowe, an ecological consultant, called as an expert witness by North Cornwall District Council.
Mr Crowe described how the area of the proposed wind farm is in the middle of a vitally important corridor between two wooded valleys which is used by bats.
He said: “There are significant bat populations which use the corridor to travel between Coombe Mill and Gooseham Mill. All British bats and their places of shelter are protected by law.
“Nine different species of bat have been identified in the area which is an exceptional figure. There are only 16 species in the country as a whole and this site is strategically important to bats.”
The varieties of bats identified in the area include the Greater Horseshoe bat whose continued existence is causing particular concern across Europe where it is already extinct in some areas.
Both that, and the lesser horseshoe bat, which is also becoming increasingly rare, are to be found in the area around Crimp where the turbines would be situated.
Other species which use the corridor for their flight include the brown long-eared bat, the soprano pipistrelle, the common pipistrelle, Serotine bats, Natterer’s bats, whiskered/Brandt’s bats and noctule bats.
Mr Crowe said: “All the bats could be at risk from these turbines and they fly at an altitude that brings them into risk of being hit by the turbine blades. The environmental survey carried out by the Wind Farm’s surveyors has underestimated the number of bats in the area. A significant number of bats will be killed by this site.”
He added that the European Court of Justice has ordered some wind turbines to be stopped because of bat runs at certain times of the year. He explained that bats have a low level of reproduction and therefore any bats killed by the turbines would have a significant impact on the survival chances of the colony.
The hearing in Bude, which was originally allocated four days, is now expected to over run into next week with numerous expert witnesses being called by all sides in the dispute. Many residents will also take the opportunity to air their views.
The hearing continues today.
By Marcia Castle
30 January 2008
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