Rural campaigners face a struggle to halt what critics have branded an “invasion” of Northumberland’s unspoiled moorlands by wind farm developers, it is claimed.
The Government’s determination to see much more of the nation’s energy generated from renewable sources means there are big problems in trying to halt the spread of massive turbines across England’s most northerly county.
Northumberland’s rural geography, sparse population and wind resources mean it will continue to be an attractive target for green energy companies, it is claimed. And with council planners unable to take the need for more renewable energy into account when making decisions, opponents fighting new wind farms must prove they would seriously harm local communities or landscapes.
The claims emerged at a public forum organised by the county council to stimulate a debate on whether Northumberland is getting too many wind farms.
Recent presentations by environmental campaigner Bill Short, who lives at Kirkwhelpington, claimed the county is doing far more than its fair share on meeting national renewable energy targets – and that a slow down of approvals is required. Mr Short says Northumberland has already approved four times as much wind generation as any other county outside the North East, and says it is meeting renewables targets for 2060.
More than 60 parish councillors and campaigners from across the county attended the public debate in Morpeth Town Hall on Tuesday, organised by communities and place scrutiny committee chairman Glen Sanderson.
A show of hands produced a large majority who favoured the view that Northumberland is getting too many wind turbines. However, some argued that the county only has three small wind farms in operation at present, and that more renewable generation is vital to tackle climate change and protect future generations.
The county council’s sustainability programme manager, Hugh Clear Hill, said opponents of more wind farms were fighting a growing tide in terms of Government policy. He said the strong message was that a lot more renewable energy would be required, possibly double or treble the current capacity.
“We are also told that it is basically not the job of local planning committees to establish the need for renewable energy, because there is already an established need,” he added.
Ian Armstrong, from Cartington parish council, said unless there was a change in Government attitude, Northumberland would end up with a “vast array” of ineffective and costly turbines. Joe Sennett, from Widdrington Station parish council, said: “Our officers are being led by the nose by the Government.”
John Thompson, chairman of the Wingates Not Wind Farms action group, said: “We are in an almost no win situation. The local authority should tell the Government that we have met the targets we have been set, and ask them how much further do we have to go.”
Climate campaigner Malcolm Reid of Tynedale said people had to accept that more renewable energy was needed in the future, and that wind was a major resource in Northumberland. He questioned some of the claims and statistics put forward by wind farm opponents, and said there was a vital need to protect future generations.
Yesterday Coun Sanderson said: “I believe the meeting was incredibly valuable because it showed the divergence and strength of opinion on this issue. My committee will meet again next month to consider all of the questions and issues raised and make a recommendation to the full council.
“That might be that we feel Northumberland has almost met its target for wind turbines, and perhaps it is time the Government reviewed that target.”