Do we want more wind turbines on some of Yorkshire’s most beautiful hills? Frederic Manby reports on a row in Craven.
IT is an irony that windfarms are almost always in areas of great beauty. Yet it was still a shock when plans were announced last autumn to build 11 of the tallest wind turbines on hills in the Craven dales. The site is between Skipton and Gisburn, a few miles from the border with Lancashire. It is gorgeous.
It is at Brightenber, in the triangle of land between the A65, A682 and A59. Nearby, each within a few miles, are the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The land between, including Brightenber, is as attractive: it just doesn’t have the official appellation. It was formed by the retreating glaciers in the last Ice Age, which rounded off the limestone hills with a coating of clay. They undulate and roll and have been likened to a huge basket of eggs when seen from the air. They are called drumlins, and are a unique landscape.
The nearest communities to the windfarm site are the parishes of Bank Newton, Nappa and Swinden. That’s about 24 houses and farms, of which the majority are at Bank Newton. All are detached and, when they come for sale, are sought after and expensive. The land is in the control of a few families, one of which withdrew from the windfarm scheme, which gave the promoters, EnergieKontor, of Germany, only enough land to build half the number initially planned.
This left one relatively small landowner, Robert Metcalfe, in the plan. He is a dairy farmer and has all the pressures such work brings. He also has had a fair amount of ribbing from his rural neighbours, most of whom are against the planned windfarm.
“We see it as an opportunity. Other people see it as a threat”, said Mr Metcalfe. More than that he would not say, having been told by EnergieKontor not to talk to the Press at this crucial planning stage.
On Monday, the proposals for a 60m high wind-testing mast will be reconsidered by Craven District Council’s planning committee. If that is approved, it seems certain that the council will receive a full application within a month. Under the latest proposals it will be five units, now reduced in height to 100 metres (from 126m), which no longer ranks them as the biggest in Britain.
They will be on, or near, the top of 200m high hills, visible from the A65 trunk road around Gargrave, from Pendle Hill in Lancashire and Malham Cove in Yorkshire.
Each is designed to produce 2 to 2.5 megawatts, but typically windfarms produce only 25 to 27 per cent of their capacity: enough in this instance to provide electricity for 7,000 houses in Skipton and Barnoldswick.
There will be six months of construction, with the narrow lanes commandeered by the leviathan transport. Some of these vehicles will be 160 feet long. For one month there will be 40 vehicle movements a day.
One consequence of this threat to the idyll is that a pressure group, Friends of the Craven Landscape, has sprung up. It is attracting members from over the border in Lancashire, in a war of the roses against the turbines.
Its campaign is based on “a calm, thoughtful presentation of why we don’t like the windfarm”, as one landowner, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained. There is no animosity towards Robert Metcalfe. He is a good neighbour. They understand his reasons. “I have every sympathy. As a landowner I am always looking for ways of income other than farming. If somebody comes along and says I can produce you an income of X thousand pounds, you are going to listen”.
He, like most of his neighbouring landowners, declined approaches from EnergieKontor and other windfarm builders in recent years. They are wealthy enough not to need to sacrifice their land to wind turbines. One has just gone into Caribbean tax exile for five years.
Conrad Atkinson, project manager, based at EnergieKontor’s office in Knaresborough, says each turbine will cost between £750,000 and £1m to build. He will not reveal their revenue, nor what deal they have offered to Robert Metcalfe. Figures of a minimum annual payment of £6,000 per unit are mooted. It could be much higher. Roger Tempest, of Broughton Hall, a few miles away and renowned for its trend-setting business park, says he has land-owning friends who are getting £25,000 a turbine.
Mr Tempest advocates energy conservation and hydro power and technical innovation. He says: “The whole wind industry has become a financial thing, anyway. The net gain just doesn’t exist. They are aesthetically intrusive for the sake of so little. They do more harm than good.”
On Wednesday evening Conrad Atkinson addressed windfarm sceptics at the home of Kate Downs, who chairs the parish meeting at Bank Newton, the most closely affected community, albeit of just 17 scattered properties. During 90 minutes of presentation and questioning Mr Atkinson was never flustered and remained good humoured, as did his opposition.
But the majority were not swayed. Kate Downs says, “It’s such a special area, so beautiful and enjoyed by so many people”. She has lived there for 50 years. Her love of the area is shared by a relative newcomer, Chris Emmett. He criticises the lack of widespread consultation in the Craven area, while commenting wryly that the British Mountaineering Council (for example) was approached by EnergieKontor for its views.
Like fellow FCL members he questions the practicality and economics of windfarming. He warns that tourism, which brings in some £230m a year to Craven, could suffer. A fall of a few per cent could cut spending by £9m.
One area of wind-powered success is in factories. Ford has just installed a t
hird turbine at Dagenham, which means that its diesel engine production uses green power.
Local authorities now have to meet targets for renewable energy. In Craven district the target is 18 megawatts at optimum capacity for the national grid a year in 2010 and 48MW in 2021.
The target for the whole of North Yorkshire is a minimum of 209MW in 2010 and 428MW in 2021. On paper the theoretical annual output of 12 to 14.5mw from Brightenber will go well towards Craven’s target.
Craven Council is preparing a strategy to encourage the development of renewable energy sources. A draft of the plan states: “Larger scale proposals, such as wind turbines, will only be acceptable where it can be shown that they will have only limited adverse impacts on existing communities, landscape quality and the natural and historic environment”.
This may give some hope to Friends of Craven Landscape.
4 April 2008
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