Villagers defending green belt against a windfarm have won a surprise victory.
An application for four giant turbines at Todd Hill was thrown out by County Planning and Environment Committee members on Tuesday night by one vote, against the advice of their planning officers.
On the decision, Novera Energy project director Stephen Hannay said yesterday: “We are extremely disappointed with the vote.
“Todd Hill is a compact, visually discreet site that meets all the planning criteria and for this reason was recommended for approval by the planning officers.
“I can confirm that Novera will now be considering its position and we will make a further statement in due course.”
Campaign leader Tim Weightman said if it went to appeal, local people would fight on for the sake of other areas as well as their own. “We will have to make sure the points we have made tonight are taken to the highest level,” he said.
He felt use of green belt land was one of the main reasons for the refusal, along with the size of the development and its proximity to Morpeth and people’s homes.
Mr Weightman added: “I’m totally delighted with the decision and it’s put my faith back in the decisions this council has had to make.”
About 60 people in the public gallery heard Sir David Kelly, representing 80 families living near the site, tell the meeting that county planning officers were wrong in law to override national guidance protecting green belt in pursuit of targets for renewable energy.
The officers agreed the project was unsuitable for green belt, but cited Government guidance to justify approval.
This says developers have to “demonstrate very special circumstances that clearly outweigh any harm” in green belt.
But very special circumstances “may include the wider economic benefits associated with the production of energy from renewable resources”.
The County’s 2010 target for renewable energy is 212MW, but only 4.5MW exists and another 183.2MW has consent.
The Edinburgh company wanted four 101metre turbines at Todd Hill for 25 years, each generating 2MW to 2.5MW – enough for half to three-quarters the population of Morpeth.
It said the scheme could benefit the local and regional economy through construction contracts and opportunities for suppliers.
Novera was prepared to set up a community fund of about 20,000 a year.
Mr Hannay told the meeting jobs would go to local people and suggested the site was supported by the silent majority.
Coun Ian Hutchinson moved refusal of the application and the motion was carried by four votes to three, despite a plea from committee Chairman Trevor Thorne, who said: “There is always going to be some environmental impact from a windfarm application.”Officers and myself feel that this impact is acceptable.”
Local member David Towns said: “These turbines are industrial and commercial giants which out on moors may have their place, and I believe they do, but not when they tower over small communities.”
Coun Richard Dodd urged refusal so a Government minister would have to make the decision on appeal.
Coun Wayne Daley said: “I’m getting a feeling here that we are being pushed down a route because of an Act that has been put forward in Westminster and not necessarily something that’s good for Northumberland. In that case, what’s the point of having a planning committee for Northumberland?”
Coun Jeff Gobin said: “These people deserve a bit support off us. Let them have the windfarms out to sea where they are in nobody’s way.”
The turbines would have stood amid 292 acres of small fields, hedgerows and burns in a natural bowl in rolling farmland.
About 2,470 lorry loads of stone and concrete would have been delivered to build tracks, plinths for the turbines and a crane hardstanding next to each one.
Turbine sections would have arrived in up to 33 abnormal loads from Blyth harbour.
Objectors wrote 182 letters to the council and raised a 22-name petition.
The scheme was opposed by six parish councils. There were 55 letters of support.
Concerns included impact on the landscape, especially added to other schemes, harm to tourism, noise and health, and effect on wildlife. Nature groups had no objections.
Supporters welcomed the environmental benefits of renewable energy and the prospect of jobs.
Mr Hannay told the meeting Scotland and Northumberland had 25 per cent of Europe’s wind resource.
“A turbine in Northumberland will produce significantly more energy than the same turbine built on the Continent,” he said.
The company said the visual impact would be limited to 34 properties nearby, but this was disputed by campaigners, who said a balloon they had flown at turbine height had been seen much more widely than that.
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