One of the longest running planning submissions in recent Westcountry municipal history is about to come to a head – it’s been almost five years since the initial application was made to build a wind farm at Batsworthy in North Devon and the issue will finally be decided at a special meeting today, with battle-lines still firmly drawn on both sides.
“The fireworks are likely to fly,” commented one man who has been fighting the development every day of his life since November 2006 when the initial application was submitted to North Devon District Council.
Bob Barfoot, chairman of the North Devon branch of the Campaign for Preservation of Rural England will be at Bishop Nympton’s new village hall to declare his organisation’s belief that the wind farm will have a “devastating impact” on the surrounding countryside.
In the other corner will be local Green Party politician Ricky Knight who will state his belief that wind farms are “a magnificent statement of faith and hope in our future.”
Between the two men are literally hundreds of individuals and organisations who have all manner of beliefs, opinions and crosses to bear in the great wind-farm debacle.
And a great many will be voiced when North Devon District Council’s planning committee holds a specially convened meeting in response to RWE Npower Renewables Ltd’s desire to build nine 103-metre turbines at a site just to the south of Moortown Cross on the A361 link road.
The proposed location, which is just over a mile south of Knowstone village, has been made even more controversial than would normally have been the case in a wind farm application because it lies just four miles from the boundary of a national park – and the Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) has recorded an official objection to the development.
Needless to say, RWE takes another view: “At this size the site will have a capacity of approximately 18 mega watts (MW),” said a spokesman. “If consented, Batsworthy Cross Wind Farm would make a valuable contribution towards the Government’s renewable energy targets to meet the annual needs of around 8,700 households; more than a fifth of the homes in North Devon.”
Batsworthy is situated on an exposed and windy ridge which, at an altitude of between 208 and 265 metres above sea level, is one of the highest points in North Devon.
The application for the site was one of four that were submitted for a total of 24 turbines in the area. Two of these – Three Moors (nine turbines) and Bickham Moor (four turbines, located just inside the Mid Devon district) – were refused planning permission following a six-month-long public inquiry in 2009.
Among the reasons the planning inspector refused permission in both cases was the impact the turbines would have on the neighbouring national park.
The lobby objecting to the surviving applications now argues that the two remaining sites are about the same distance from Exmoor and stand at nearly the same altitude, and therefore should be turned down for the same reasons (the fourth application for two turbines at nearby Cross Moor is yet to have a planning date set).
They also point out that Natural England wrote in support of the ENPA objections and that other detractors include English Heritage, the Exmoor Society, the CPRE, the Council for National Parks, Mid Devon District Council, the Open Space Society, the Ramblers and the Two Moors Campaign – as well as 660 local people who have written to protest.
But Christopher Nunn, RWE’s project developer, counters: “The location of the proposed wind farm is within an Area of Search for Strategic Wind Farm Development, as defined by the Devon Structure Plan and adopted by Devon County Council in 2004.
“As an experienced and responsible developer we have liaised closely with North Devon Council and the local community. We also undertook a formal consultation exercise in 2008. During the consultation process many local people expressed their support for the proposal and we continue to receive a lot of support for the project which could help North Devon meet its target of 151 megawatts of power from renewable sources.”
Mr Barfoot disagrees about the levels of support – in fact he disagrees with just about everything else RWE claim: “We consider that this wind farm would have a devastating impact on the special qualities and setting of Exmoor National Park,” he told the WMN.
“Since the application was submitted in November 2006 CPRE has submitted numerous objections as more and more issues became apparent with the application.
“The wind farm site is on one of the highest ridges in North Devon and the ENPA has said that on many days the site would form the skyline when looking southwards from the national park. On clear days it would appear as a dominant feature in longer views southwards towards Dartmoor in the distance.
“Following a planning inquiry in 2009 the planning inspector refused permission for the Bickham Moor wind farm on the grounds that it was a ‘skyline’ development which would have severe impacts on the national park and its setting. Batsworthy Cross lies about two miles from the Bickham Moor site – and the CPRE considers that this, on its own, is enough to refuse planning permission.
“A new landscape assessment adopted by the council in February states that, in the area of the Batsworthy site, steps should be taken to ‘protect the landscape’s sense of tranquillity and remoteness through avoiding the location of new development on prominent, open skylines’.
“The Batsworthy Cross site is on a prominent, open skyline,” says Mr Barfoot, who is also concerned about the effect the turbines will have on people living close by. “The council’s own noise consultant has repeatedly stated that turbine noise is a reason for refusal. CPRE is also aware that the model of turbine proposed is well known for causing noise problems and have caused families elsewhere to leave their homes.”
“CPRE supports renewable energy schemes as long as they are of the right size and in the right place,” concluded Mr Barfoot. “But we cannot stand aside while our beautiful landscape, the main asset of Devon, is despoiled by these monstrous industrial machines.
“The South West has some of the highest tides in the world and we feel that these should be utilised to produce energy rather than huge onshore wind turbines which ruin our landscape, the quality of life of our rural folk, and our rural economy.”
Caroline Harvey, secretary of the Two Moors Campaign, agrees with this line: “The main asset we have in the Westcountry is the landscape – that is what attracts millions of pounds of investment and jobs in tourism. The turbines at Batsworthy would be on an open exposed ridge, entirely different from the undulating Fullabrook site (the wind farm now being erected near Barnstaple) and will be visible and have a massive impact across most of North Devon, Mid Devon, Torridge and beyond.
“Batsworthy would be a final nail in the coffin for many local tourism businesses, introducing industrialisation to most views from Exmoor and the surrounding lands,” she told the WMN, adding that the site was regarded locally as the ‘gateway’ to North Devon.
“People are finally waking up to the fact that you cannot sensitively site huge structures over 100m high in the landscape without creating a massive negative impact,” said Mrs Harvey. “Little by little these structures are forming a ring of steel around the National Park, one of our greatest assets.”
But Barnstaple town councillor and Green Party candidate Ricky Knight believes a great many people in Devon have realised the need for renewable energy: “Mindful of a reaction that was inevitable (to the Batsworthy proposal) we went to the Knowlestone-Rackenford area and got a remarkable amount of support – and, yes, also some cauliflower ears,” he told the WMN.
“When I call such people ‘strident nimbys’ I do so descriptively, not in a disparaging way – and people are intimidated by them.
“We (Barnstaple’s Green Party) are very much in favour of the Batsworthy wind farm and we are going to be involved with the planing meeting,” he went on. “I want to see that renewable energy is given more emphasis in the way we make electricity.
“We have so much wind and so much wave action here – and I believe Devon should do as much as possible. We are not doing too badly in the county but, let’s face it, in terms of the national picture unless we do something about the log-jam of (wind farm) applications that are UK-wide, then we’re never going to achieve even the most minimum (renewable energy) requirements.
“This has gone on and on and on…” said Mr Knight. “They (the wind farm developer) have responded to every request for information. This is a temporary structure designed for 25 years – let us hope we have offshore wind farm power by then and we can wean ourselves off onshore
“I love wind turbines,” he concluded. “Every time I see them my heart gives a little flutter. And I believe the vast majority of population is in favour of wind farms. They are big, but to me they are a magnificent statement of faith and hope into the future – these turbines are beacons of hope.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding