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Wind turbines face legal challenge

A campaigner has won the right to appeal against plans for a wind farm in a Devon beauty spot.

In March a High Court Judge refused to overturn the Government’s permission for the Den Brook Valley wind farm. But the campaign group, Den Brook Judicial Review, launched an appeal against the decision on the issue of noise levels.

And campaigner Mike Hulme will present his case to London’s High Court at the end of the month.

West Devon Borough Council rejected the application for nine 125-metre-tall turbines to stand on land near North Tawton in West Devon in 2006.

But in February 2007 the planning inspector reversed the decision and gave the company Renewable Energy Systems (RES), the go-ahead for the project.

Meanwhile, campaigners said that the information provided by the company on noise levels was incorrect – a claim since admitted by the energy producers. But RES says the difference between their calculations and the actual noise levels would not be noticeable.

Mr Hulme said: “The issue of noise pollution weighs heavily against the apparent benefit of generating green electricity. The turbines will generate barely a quarter of their 18MW capacity, in any case.”

On June 10 this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the new noise evidence was significant and granted Mr Hulme leave to appeal.

Protesters had originally challenged the application in 2006 on the sheer size of the turbines. When this failed they then turned to noise levels.

Mr Hulme said: “I always believed that local people had a right to check the fine print. This is too important to leave to chance. It’s our homes that are at stake.”

Last month the High Court rejected an appeal by North Devon District Council over the proposed Fullabrook wind farm, close to Braunton.

But Mr Hulme said he believes this time the campaigners’ case was far stronger: “We now have a really good prospect of persuading the court that RES’s planning permission is too flawed to be reliable.”

There is no argument that errors were made in the processing of the noise data used for the noise assessment.

A company spokeswoman said: “RES is sorry that this error occurred, but can reassure local residents that we are taking steps to correct the error as quickly as possible.” And she said the company was assessing the situation to ensure the planning condition would “take the slight change in the noise level into account”.

But she said RES believed the difference between the data assessed in the Environmental Statement and the corrected data was “so small that it will not be perceivable, as it is below levels that can be heard”.

RES describes the proposed nine turbines as a low-impact scheme which would bring both environmental and economic benefits to this part of Devon.

Rachel Ruffle of RES said “We are ready to build this project and are confident that it will sit well in the area. We took great care to design the wind farm so that it would not be a noise nuisance.

“The error is minuscule in noise terms; nevertheless we are taking steps to correct it to ensure people are confident that they have their rightful protection. We are very sorry for the error but shocked at the way it is being exaggerated.”

Peter Harrison

Western Morning News

10 July 2008