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Landscape that inspired Hockney is facing wind of change from turbines

At 10am today art lovers will begin passing through the doors of Salts Mill to see the latest exhibition by David Hockney.

They’ll be there to cast their critical eye over a series of new works inspired by the landscape of East Yorkshire, which has been home to Bradford’s favourite son ever since he returned from California six years ago. It’s a bit of a coup for the venue, long a supporter of Hockney, but there’s also another group which is paying close attention to the exhibition.

For the No to the Wolds Wind Farm campaigners, the timing of the Salts Mill event couldn’t have been better. For a little while now they have been trying to raise awareness of what they see as the looming threat of wind turbines in the area, and Hockney’s iconic paintings of the patchwork landscape, they say, couldn’t be a better illustration of what could be lost.

“The Wolds are a prehistoric landscape, they have survived unchanged for thousands of years and Hockney’s paintings have captured their quiet beauty,” says David Hinde, one of the leading voices in the campaign group.

“However, the Wolds face an immediate and urgent threat and if nothing is done the entire area could be swamped by wind turbines. If that happens the whole character of the place will be destroyed.

“Everyone you talk to who is involved in the development of wind farms and turbines says they have the best interests of the area at heart, but when you look at what is happening, it’s hard not believe that many are motivated by what can only be described as a dash for cash.”

Hockney, who has previously described the undulating Wolds landscape as paradise, hasn’t yet added his weight to the protest, but the group remain hopeful that he will and if his enthusiasm for protecting the area against wind farms proves as relentless as it has been in bemoaning Britain’s anti-smoking regulations it might just be key.

However, for now, it’s down to the campaigners, who fear they are in a race against time to get the Wolds made an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

It’s a move which they hope would make the installation of any further wind turbines a great deal more difficult, and they are in the process of rallying as much support as they can.

Greg Knight, the area’s Conservative MP, has promised to raise the matter with the Government front benches and in the hope of seeking some reassurance about the future of the Wolds, the campaigners have gone one step further. They’ve not yet received a reply to the letter they sent recently to Buckingham Palace, but they are hoping their efforts will at least get the issue some wider attention.

“Everyone assumes that the Wolds already has some special protection, but it doesn’t,” says Steve Hey, another member of the group.

“There was a move a number of years ago to secure Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status for the Wolds, but the council changed and unfortunately it dropped off the agenda.

“Now we need to make sure that this very special landscape is looked after for future generations.”

However, Natural England, responsible for designating AONBs, says it can take up to five years for the process to be completed, and given the last time an area won protection was the Tamar Valley back in the 1990s, the campaigners may need a plan B.

To date, two wind farms have been approved, but are not yet operational at Sober Hill and Sancton, and an application has been received for a further wind farm at Thornholme, near Bridlington.

Together with various applications for individual turbines, opponents claim that if all are passed it could result in 196 turbines swamping the landscape. It’s a figure which some dispute, but what is certain is the level of bad feeling brewing in many parts of the Wolds. One of the most controversial sites proposed is a multi-million pound development at Hunmanby, near Filey, which would see up to 14 turbines 475ft-high built on agricultural land.

A separate action group, specifically against the Hunmanby development, has been set up in an attempt to block the scheme and, at a public meeting about Banks Renewables’ proposals earlier this year, villagers turned out in their hundreds. Campaigners not only claim they and the wider public have been kept in the dark about the proposals, but warn that unless there is an objective debate about such schemes, any support for green energy projects will be quickly eroded.

“It’s the day after we were hit by the tail end of a hurricane and you know what? None of the turbines are turning,” says vice-chair of Humanby Parish Council Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff.

“They’ve been switched off because it’s too windy. It’s hard to take a technology seriously when it seems so ill-equipped to do its job.

“The problem in this area is the cumulative effect of all the small developments. One turbine here, another half a dozen there may not sound like a lot, but taken together it could completely change the landscape. What really concerns me is that there are not enough politicians prepared to speak out. Renewable energy has become a buzz word in recent years and it seems there are many MPs who fear criticising it in case they are seen as somehow crossing a red line.

“The fact is that wind farm developments are subsidised, so it’s we the taxpayer who are funding them, yet at best they are only a small part of future energy policy. We saw the dangers of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy which left us with vast food mountains no one wanted. If an industry can’t stand on its own, it’s only right that we question its viability.”

The groups are clearly conscious of being painted as Nimbys, but insist that with the Wolds as their own back yard it is in everyone’s interest that it is protected.

“As a group we are not against renewable energy, but we just believe that wind turbines are not the way forward,” says David. “The technology is inefficient and it certainly does not warrant the destruction of the countryside and the rural communities who live there.”

Opinion is split about the future of wind farms. While some maintain they will play a crucial part in energy policy, others point to countries like Denmark, early proponents of the technology, and say wind farms are now being scaled back. Elsewhere, councils admit their hands are often tied.

“The council considers each application for wind turbines carefully, which includes assessing the effects of proposals on the landscape taking into account any already permitted schemes in the vicinity,” says Pete Ashcroft, head of planning and development management at East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

“We have refused a number of windfarm proposals in the East Riding, but in many cases these have been subsequently allowed on appeal, including the Sober Hill development.”

With Government plans to simplify current planning regulations there are fears it could further open the floodgates to unsympathetic developments and leave areas like the Wolds in an even more vulnerable position.

“Look, there are no easy answers, but we need to try harder,” says Michelle. “My husband always says that the Wolds are Yorkshire’s hidden gem. He’s right, but it may not be for much for longer.”