The sun is setting on a snow-bound Suffolk. The landscape is so flat round here that the white fields of winter wheat stretch for miles in every direction, beneath enormous, spreading skies.
In the past thousand years, the only man-made structure to disturb the horizon has been the medieval stone and knapped flint tower of Laxfield church.
Until last week, that is – when Trevor Jones, the Oscar-winning musician behind the soundtracks of the films Notting Hill, Mississippi Burning and The Last Of The Mohicans, erected an 80ft tall wind turbine in the back garden of his home at Low Farm.
Now this gentle area of East Anglia with its medieval churches, Tudor farmhouses and oak barns has been shattered by this gaunt, towering, Meccano monstrosity.
Imported from Denmark, the 42ft blade, 11 kilowatt turbine sits on the brow of a hill, 200 ft above sea level, dominating views in every direction. It cost thousands to buy and erect – meaning that it will take years to recoup the money through savings on the Joneses’ electricity bill.
However, Trevor Jones and his wife Victoria have never even lived at their thatched Tudor farmhouse which sits 160 yards from the turbine. They prefer a nearby cottage – as well as their other long list of homes which includes places in nearby Southwold, Los Angeles and Cape Town in 61-year-old Trevor’s native South Africa – the trappings that come with being one of the top six film composers in the world.
But their neighbour Michael Cole, the former BBC reporter and spokesman for ex-Harrods boss Mohamed Al-Fayed, has lived 350 yards away, at Michaelmas Barn, for 22 years – and he is livid.
‘I was taking my dog for a walk and I suddenly saw the turbine being winched up by an enormous crane,’ says Cole, who runs a PR company but remains on good terms with Al-Fayed and is a director of the Egyptian tycoon’s Fulham Football Club.
‘The next day, the blade started turning, and you can’t stop looking at it. It’s mesmerising – it catches your eye and dominates everything. This nice little meadow has been churned up with earth-moving machinery and filled with a vast concrete base. For four weeks, 40-ton trucks have been back and forth, setting it up.
‘You used to have a 360-degree view and never saw anything you didn’t like – and now there’s this, standing out like a sore thumb. As a composer, Trevor Jones should have a highly-developed aesthetic sense. But this is unnecessary, selfish and whimsical.
‘They think they can bring their metropolitan attitudes about saving the environment and force them on us benighted people in the country. It’s condescending and unacceptable.
‘I’m not saying this is the most beautiful part of Suffolk – it’s just a piece of honest English countryside which hasn’t changed much in 300 years.
‘It used to be somewhere to escape the madness of London. I’d come home, switch off the car engine, and there’d be peace and quiet. I’d just hear owls hooting and see the stars. All we ask here is to be left alone. I’m perfectly happy for the Joneses to be here. I just don’t understand why they want to disfigure the place.
‘Too many people, who set out to save the world, end up ruining the countryside. It reminds me of the story of the American officer in Vietnam who justified destroying a village by saying: “I had to destroy it to save it.”
‘I’ve written three times to Trevor Jones, and he’s never replied,’ says Cole. ‘This was the last thing we ever wanted. When the Joneses bought the place 14 years ago, we were all very friendly. We knew them. We knew their children. We had dinner and drinks together. When they bought a swimming pool, they came and looked at ours.’
The Joneses’ application to erect the turbine was twice turned down, unanimously, by Dennington parish council – made up of the locals who would be most affected by this new steel triffid stalking the skyline. But then they resubmitted their application to the larger Suffolk Coastal District Council, who approved it.
Cole says: ‘The council could quite easily have rejected it, on the grounds that the turbine was going to be put up in the middle of unspoilt countryside. A total of 14 people complained and two other families have an even more prominent view of the turbine than we do. But there’s this government directive to get a certain amount of wind turbines across the country.
‘The Government has just signed up to a whole lot more green energy, but it doesn’t bother Coalition ministers because by the time these things happen, they’ll be out of office. Now they’ve set a precedent, and these things will spread like a rash across the country. Every beautiful prospect of countryside will be disfigured. And when these turbines turn out to be useless, they’ll be abandoned as rusty, dilapidated, creaky hulks sitting in the middle of fields.’
A horrified Michael Cole has now written to Ivan Jowers, the chairman of the council development committee, complaining about the stark ugliness of the turbine and the insistent hum it makes, night and day – when the wind blows.
Gaia-Wind, the Danish firm that makes the turbines, insists that the noise never rises above 88 decibels – supposedly the level of background noise in the country.
But that hasn’t stopped the Joneses soundproofing a neighbouring barn which they have turned into a recording studio and concert hall.
Indeed, when the wind does get going round here, so then does the noise: ‘A low-level grumbling, like an asthmatic old man, combined with a clicking, as the blade turns with the wind direction,’ says Michael Cole.
‘When Trevor Jones came here, he said: “I have to have utter and total quiet,” ’ says Jane, Michael Cole’s wife. ‘And then he puts this up.’
‘He says he doesn’t want to leave the house to his children when he dies and not give them adequate means to pay for the electricity, but they’ll never get their money back,’ says Cole.
‘And as for the energy saved, what about the energy spent on building the turbine, shipping it, getting it across Suffolk and erecting it?
‘I once said to Trevor: “If you cut back on one round-trip, first class, to Los Angeles, you could heat a family house for a year.” He said: “I’ve got no answer to that.” ’
‘It’s not that we’re not keen on green issues – I’m not a disbeliever in global warming,’ says Cole. ‘We must all be more modest in our use of the world’s finite resources. We do our bit. We’ve planted 600 trees here; I bicycle everywhere. We recycle, and cut up our logs to heat our house.
‘But an army of turbines across the country isn’t the way to do it. It’ll never be cost-effective. I can’t believe that we’ll ever get more than one or two per cent of our electricity from these things. It’s all just a vanity project, a rich man’s toy.’
As I head back to Ipswich, 20 miles south, the sun dips below the horizon, the dying rays catching the edge of the blade of the wind turbine.
In this intensely cold weather – just when electricity demands are at their highest – you might think the turbine might be doing its bit to fulfil demand. But its blades are motionless because, say the Coles, there often isn’t any wind at all in these parts.
Not just a rich man’s toy, then, but a rich man’s toy that doesn’t work too well.
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