Rising Government targets for green energy are giving wind farm applications greater weight, a barrister told the Kirkharle inquiry yesterday.
David Hardy said green energy schemes such as the proposal by RWE Npower Renewables to build four high-powered 125-metre turbines in the picturesque heart of Northumberland should be “favourably looked on”.
There was a “substantial” shortfall in Northumberland’s low-carbon delivery against targets which had trebled since being first set in 2005, and the county had to work towards meeting those targets.
Mr Hardy is fronting Swindon-based RWE’s appeal against Northumberland County Council’s failure to give notice of its refusal decision within statutory deadlines.
The Council says it would have rejected the scheme anyway because of the adverse affect on the Bavington Conservation Area and village properties near the site.
Planning Officer Frances Wilkinson said a lesser scheme may have received more favourable consideration but the current one would cause “considerable harm” in a “quiet and settled landscape”.
Heritage Officer Elaine Grey said: “The views from Great Bavington are critical to maintaining its character and must be protected.”
However, Mr Hardy told the inquiry: “Where do you set the bar between what is acceptable and unacceptable? The bar has to be high enough to let sufficient schemes go through and has to be low enough to stop schemes that are unacceptable going through.
“But there has to be some latitude given to these schemes, because if you are too strict you aren’t going to get there.”
Mr Hardy said Northumberland was facing a 118-megawatt shortfall in Northumberland’s projected green energy target by 2020.
Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, had indicated the greater the need, the greater the weight that should be attached to applications.
“And if it’s good enough for the Secretary of State,” Mr Hardy said, “then you have to take it reasonably seriously.”
Mr Hardy added: “There are going to be local concerns, but you are going to have to get over that if you are going to deploy in the way the Government wants to.” However, Mrs Wilkinson said of the Kirkharle proposal: “The harm caused would not be outweighed by the benefits of the scheme.
“I would have thought that the applicant would have looked at ways of minimising and mitigating the impact.”
Planners say the amenity of three residences, Steel Rigg, Steel Rigg Cottage and Ladywell, would be hit by the turbines as proposed.
Miss Grey said the “distinctive setting” of Great Bavington had to be protected and added: “It is quite clear that the turbines (would) have an impact on that setting.”
The inquiry, before Government Inspector David Rose, goes into its third day today.