Planners who approved the building of seven massive new wind turbines on the Northumberland coastline may be forced to re-consider the decision after their council failed to follow the correct procedures.
The proposed turbines at Blyth Harbour – six of them 125 metres high and the seventh the tallest land-based turbine in Europe at 163m – were given the green light by Wansbeck councillors two months ago, despite strong opposition from Newcastle Airport.
Airport bosses say the giant structures could cause interference on air traffic control radar screens and pose a potential threat to aircraft safety.
Under national planning rules, the council should have sought the opinion of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) when it proposed to approve the scheme in the face of the safety objections from the airport.
It failed to do so but has now formally consulted the CAA after being reminded of its legal obligations by the Government office for the North East (GONE).
If the CAA now supports Newcastle Airport’s concerns over safety, the council will have to hold a fresh meeting and re-consider the decision to approve the turbines.
The procedural hitch was revealed after airport bosses asked Government ministers to call in the decision to approve the Hainsford Energy application, and order a public inquiry into the unresolved safety fears. The airport claims it might have to create an exclusion zone around the wind farm, because of the height of the turbines, and re-route incoming and outbound flights by at least five nautical miles.
Wansbeck councillors approved the application in January after leading aviation experts QneticQ, who were commissioned by Hainsford Energy to study the potential air safety risks, concluded that the turbines would have a minimal impact on the airport’s operations.
Yesterday Richard Gee, senior development control officer with Wansbeck Council, said the CAA was consulted prior to the planning application being submitted, and concluded it was not within its remit. “However, if a local authority wants to issue a decision contrary to the advice of Newcastle Airport, it then has to consult with the CAA.
“This was pointed out to us by GONE and as soon as they did, we consulted the CAA, which has 28 days to respond. If the CAA agrees with the airport’s objection, we will have to go back to the committee and ask it to re-consider the decision. At the same time, the Secretary of State could still call the application in.”
Graeme Mason, head of planning and corporate affairs at Newcastle Airport, said: “We are pleased that this has happened and will await with interest what the CAA has to say about the matter.”
A GONE spokesman said: “The law requires that as the decision was contrary to the advice of the airport, it should have been notified to the CAA for further views. This notification didn’t take place and we have asked the council to carry out this consultation. It will have to re-consider the application in light of the CAA’s response.”
By Dave Black
21 March 2008
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