Military concerns could force a radical rethink of the region’s wind capacity, the North’s top planner has admitted.
When Government planning inspectors rule on wether or not to allow 59 wind turbines over three Tynedale sites, their decision will be felt across the region, especially in Northumberland.
Officers at the North East Assembly (NEA) tasked with finding the best places to build turbines have previously labeled large parts of the Tyne Valley as acceptable for medium-size wind farms.
But an objection by the Ministry of Defence in September meant the Tynedale wind farms were rejected, and the NEA now admits a Northumberland rethink could be on the way.
Assembly member and Tynedale Council leader Michael Walton said the mixed messages over wind had resulted in thousands of pounds worth of legal action, and called for new wind targets.
He said: “These areas of least constraint are supposed to exist to give developers a reasonable chance of launching a successful application.
“At the moment we are seeing three applications in a Tynedale area of least constraint and we as a council face the expense that comes from fighting the legal battles.
“We go through all our own objections only to see the MoD come in at the last minute with a fairly heavy objection that, if we had known about earlier, would have saved a lot of time and money for everyone.
“We need real clarity here, because the obvious outcome is if these objections are upheld then this area, and any other parts the RAF don’t like, actually become areas of most constraint.
“The impact of that is that Northumberland and the region will not have the wind turbine capacity that we have been led to believe.”
Malcolm Bowes, NEA assistant chief executive, said Mr Walton was quite right when he called for the figures to be looked at again.
If the MoD objection is upheld, planners will have to choose between reducing the number of favoured sites available to developers or allowing more turbines in a limited amount of space across Northumberland.
And the feared worst-case scenario could see the rest of the North East having to bear the brunt as the Government continues pushing European energy targets.
Either way, developers face having to accept defeat and admit the presence of RAF fighter jets rules out large parts of the region to wind developers.
Wind farm opponent John Ferguson, from the Save Our Landscape campaign, has added his voice to those calling for clarity.
“I can see this being a big help for some places, and possibly a help for others.
“Of course it could mean developers just make more bids on a smaller supply of land.
“The decision on the MoD objection will throw everything back into the melting pot and we could see a radical departure from current plans.
“And while it’s clear there will be big changes, it is not yet clear who will miss out and who will gain.”
Malcolm Bowes, NEA deputy chief executive, said: “If this (MoD) objection is upheld, we will need to consider the implications it will have on renewable energy targets for Northumberland as set out in the current regional spatial strategy. We will take the outcomes into account during the preparation of the new strategy.”
The MoD has insisted it considers each application on a case-by-case basis.
But the blind spots can arise even at long distances from radar stations and the MoD is studying all proposed wind farms in the “line of sight” of their monitors. They have not said how far the line of sight can be.
By Adrian Pearson
6 March 2008
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