December 31, 2010

Turbine row set for Whitehall decision

By David Black, The Journal, 31 December 2010

A bid to erect nine giant wind turbines in the heart of the Northumberland countryside is set to be formally rejected by county councillors – leaving a final decision in the hands of a Government planning inspector.

Green energy company RES UK has generated widespread opposition to its proposals to build the 127m high turbines at Rayburn Lake, 11km west of Morpeth.

Objections have come in from 120 local people, two neighbouring parish councils, Newcastle Airport, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Natural England. Now county council officers are recommending that the planning application for the 27-megawatt facility should be rejected.

They say the scheme gives rise to a number of “significant impacts”, which must be weighed against its benefits in helping to hit national and local renewable energy targets.

Planning officers claim RES has not provided sufficient information to enable a full and proper assessment of issues such as the effects on the local landscape and ecology, aviation safety, potential noise nuisance and the cumulative impacts of wind turbines on the area.

A report to the council’s planning and environment committee says an environmental statement submitted in support of the application is “seriously deficient”.

Earlier this month it was revealed that RES UK has submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate on the grounds that the council has failed to determine its bid within the required timescale.

The application is now set to be decided at a public inquiry, but planning officials say councillors should resolve to refuse it because of the lack of detailed information.

The scheme, which targets land south of the hamlet of Wingates, was submitted to the former Alnwick District Council in March 2009.

It is one of several proposed wind farm developments in the same area, along with schemes by Novera Energy, Coronation Power, Energy4All and BT.

Local protesters are concerned about the potential cumulative impact on the landscape and uninterrupted views of open countryside.

The report to the committee meeting on January 11, by planning officer Frances Wilkinson, says there have been 173 letters of support for the RES application.

But Netherwitton Parish Council says the size and scale of the nine turbines are “beyond that which the landscape can comfortably absorb”.

And Nunnykirk Parish Council fears the proposed turbines will dominate the area and diminish people’s quality of life. Yesterday, John Thompson, who chairs the local Wingates Not Wind Farms action group, said campaigners were being denied the chance to argue their case in front of locally-elected councillors.

He said: “The Planning Inspectorate is not a local body and deciding this application at a public inquiry takes away a lot of local input.

“I believe that if a full and complete application went to the planning committee it would be refused on various grounds, whereas now it is just going to be refused for technical reasons. It could have ended up at a public inquiry anyway, but it just seems like an attitude to sneak it in by the back door.”

RES claims all interested parties will be able to take part in the inquiry, which it expects to be held in spring 2011.

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