A blot of turbines: The rush for more green energy via wind farms risks sacrificing our most beautiful landscapes
Those of us who support the government’s determination to lower CO2 emissions, yet care passionately about preserving our most beautiful landscapes, are in a serious quandary. Labour has turned to offshore wind farms as the most productive way of harvesting nature’s own supply of energy. Sadly, we are not capable of realising anything like the goal of 7,000 offshore turbines in the near future. So pressure is being applied to nod through 4,000 onshore. Objectors to complex applications running to hundreds of pages are given a meagre 21 days to register dissent. At this rate we may sacrifice areas of rare beauty thanks to governmental panic and a landscape protection policy that predates 400ft turbines.
Take the countryside where I live and work, the Welsh Marches near Knighton – the town that straddles Offa’s Dyke – whose hills have been immortalised in lines by AE Houseman and Francis Kilvert. Ten years ago, an application to Powys and Herefordshire for 14 turbines right on the border was turned down by both councils because the visual damage to an important landscape could not be justified. Local feeling was intense and pretty well unanimous. Since then the landscape has not changed, so how could the decision?
With the greater sense of urgency that climate change has fostered – not to mention the incomprehensibly vast subsidies available – the same farmer (Sir Simon Gourlay – an ex-NFU president) has put together a new application to Herefordshire for four turbines. Since he admits that this is “not an ideal site”, they will need to be 105m high (dwarfing Nelson’s Column at 55m). These massive industrial towers, counterbalanced by thousands of tons of concrete and complemented by a sub-station and overhead cabling, would reach further into the sky than any building in Wales.
Writing in Country Living in 1991, Gourlay eloquently described the views from his farm as “a spectacular landscape”. By the time he wrote his first environmental submission in 1994 this landscape had become “uninteresting, dull” and even “barren”.
We need a better and more objective way of defining areas that demand to be protected as part of our national heritage, not only because they themselves are ravishingly beautiful, peaceful and full of protected wildlife, but because they are overlooked by important and priceless countryside – in this case, the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons, Clee Hill, the Wrekin, Radnor Forest, the Malverns and, critically, the internationally important ancient monument, Offa’s Dyke. Explaining his intention to speed up the planning process, John Hutton, the business and energy minister, said that it is essential that the voice of local people be heard, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas. But with its latest renewable “push”, the government is clearly at odds with itself in trying to uphold democracy while simultaneously garnering more turbines, regardless of local opposition.
Objecting to the application, novelist Ian McEwan wrote: “To industrialise an area of great and fragile beauty for a near negligible gain is entirely against the spirit of any environmental policy rooted in common sense and practical solutions. On a small and crowded island like ours, we count ourselves lucky that there remain still places of such tranquillity and loveliness as Reeves Hill. We owe it to our children’s children to preserve such treasures and at the same time take rational steps to limit our greenhouse gas emissions.”
Several communities in the British Isles are fighting similarly, but without access to writers or the national media. For all of us, the Reeves Hill case is pivotal.
28 July 2008
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