March 8, 2011

Storm brews over wind farm plans

By Joe Willis, The Northern Echo, 7 March 2011

Analysis of Government figures shows wind farms now produce 12 per cent of the North-East’s electricity – double the percentage of any other region in England.

While councils such as County Durham and Northumberland have approved numerous wind farms, authorities in the South, such as Hampshire have approved virtually none.

No local authority areas produce more power from wind than Northumberland, and only Cornwall and Cambridgeshire produce as much as County Durham.

Officials point out that wind farms create jobs and bring investment, but critics say they spoil the countryside and impact on people’s quality of life.

Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said communities in his constituency felt “besieged” by wind farm developments after a spate of applications in recent years.

He added: “It’s the cumulative effect that I have a problem with.

“I don’t have a problem with wind farms specifically, but it is when they put too many in one place.”

The MP would like to see guidelines drawn up to prevent too many wind farms being built in a particular area.

Retired analyst Bill Short, from Northumberland, has campaigned against a wind farm in his area, however he says is not against wind energy.

He says the region has been unfairly targeted by developers who have bombarded authorities with applications.

He said: “Planners have allowed it to happen.

“Some developers have used a blitzkrieg approach.

Councils have tried to fight, but they don’t have the resources.

“When it goes to appeal the council brings one lawyer and the developer brings ten.”

According to Mr Short, the figures show new wind farm applications in the North- East are still being submitted, but not at the previous rate.

This is supported by evidence from Durham County Council.

Ged Lawson, the council’s senior landscape architect, said there had been no increase in large-scale developments recently.

However, he noted that the authority had seen more interest in smaller schemes, particularly single turbines.

Mr Short believes developers are now looking towards Yorkshire and the East Midlands for new sites.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change says that through the new Localism Bill, developers will have to demonstrate effective consultation with local people when they apply for planning permission.

The wind energy industry is also hoping to appease concerned communities by offering a minimum of £2,000 for each turbine that local residents allow to be built.

The payments have been described as “bribes” by some campaigners and are unlikely to be backdated for wind farms already erected in the region.

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