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Experts gather to discuss impact of North wind farms

Experts will come together today for a major conference on how to ensure that the drive to produce more renewable energy doesn’t harm Northumberland’s historic assets and environment.

Archaeologists, historic buildings experts, heritage advisers and planning consultants from across the UK and Ireland will be among those gathering for the one-day forum at Newcastle University.

It has been organised by Northumberland County Council to debate the potential impact on historic sites and buildings of the ever-increasing pressure to build more giant wind turbines on the county’s rugged moorlands and fells.

All 150 places have been snapped up at the event, which will also bring together wind energy developers and planning officers.

Northumberland has been the focus for a number of battles in recent years between wind farm developers and local communities opposed to the erection of giant turbines.

In some cases, the impacts of the structures on archaeological sites and centuries-old buildings such as churches have been crucial elements of the debates.

A number of wind energy schemes are currently in the pipeline for the North East with the UK committed to sourcing 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Experts say wind farms have the potential to harm both the fabric and setting of historic assets, unless careful consideration is given to their location, scale and layout at the design stage.

It is sponsored by Hexham-based Vattenfall Wind Power, Novera Energy and Wessex Archaeology, and will hear from professionals working in the sector.

Organisations represented include English Heritage and Historic Scotland.

Yesterday Coun Dougie Watkin, who will be representing Northumberland County Council, said: “It will become more important than ever to ensure that developers, landowners and planning authorities work together to ensure developments are sensitively designed to avoid unnecessary impact on our historical and archaeological heritage.

“The county council’s lead role in this conference is very pertinent as the pressure to accommodate onshore renewable energy has been keenly felt in Northumberland.

“Since 2005, at least nine wind farm applications have triggered concerns relating to the historic environment, and two schemes have been refused due to their impact on historic monuments.”

Ian Haynes, professor of archaeology at Newcastle University, said: “In looking ahead to the development of sustainable energy we must also look to respect the often fragile remains of our past. Research into the impact of wind farms will help ensure that we serve both our common future and our shared heritage.”

Colin Ormston, development director with Vattenfall Wind Power, said: “We are proud to co-sponsor this event. We feel it is an opportunity to discuss working towards a more consistent approach to archaeological considerations with respect to wind farm development.”