A Tory MP joined residents protesting against proposed turbines in his constituency while simultaneously battling to erect four turbines on his farmland in another part of the country.
When villagers launched a campaign to stop four giant wind turbines spoiling their sweeping landscape, their local MP was only too happy to lend his support.
What the campaigners did not know was that their highest-profile backer was trying to build four almost identical structures on his own land at the other end of the country.
Unbeknown to his constituents in Stroud, Gloucestershire, Neil Carmichael had struck a deal with energy giant RWE npower to site a wind farm on his farmland in Northumberland.
Opponents of the Northumberland plans branded the politician a “hypocrite” and claimed his proposals would destroy their area’s rural character forever.
While Mr Carmichael was a Conservative candidate at last year’s general election, he described a single turbine that already exists in Stroud as a “monstrosity”.
After he won the seat from Labour, one of the first big local issues in his in-tray was a proposal by the green energy company Ecotricity, in partnership with a local landowner, to build four 393-foot-high turbines near the village of Stinchcombe, adjacent to the Cotswold Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty.
Critics say the wind farm would spoil views across the Berkeley Vale, home of the Berkeley Hunt.
The plans face stiff resistance from locals. The scheme’s promoters are mounting an appeal against an initial rejection by Stroud district council, and two weeks ago Mr Carmichael attended the latest meeting organised by the Save Berkeley Vale protest group to discuss ways to fight the development.
Yet organisers of the protest group were unaware that on his land 230 miles away, Mr Carmichael was behind plans to build four 410-foot-high turbines, each one 17 feet higher than the structures proposed in Stroud.
The project is proposed for Bavington Hill Head Farm, one of two tenanted farms owned by the MP in Northumberland.
The turbines would be sited close to the Great Bavington conservation area and less than two miles from the Kirkharle estate, where Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the eighteenth-century landscape artist, learnt his trade before going on to design the gardens at Longleat and Blenheim Palace.
Critics of the scheme say that the turbines would blight the view from the Grade I listed St Wilfred’s Church, in Kirkharle village, where Brown was baptised.
The Kirkharle estate is listed in the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by English Heritage, which has said it has reservations about the plans.
Earlier this year the organisation’s regional planner wrote to Northumberland county council warning that “the proposed turbines would alter the landscape setting of the conservation area, perhaps significantly”.
The Renewable Energy Foundation has estimated that the turbines would generate around £2.3 million annually, with around £60,000 going to Mr Carmichael – although he said the actual total was lower.
The council has now refused planning permission for the scheme, but RWE npower is appealing against the way its application has been handled.
Protestors in Northumberland were scathing about Mr Carmichael’s stance. Carol Brodie, chairman of the Campaign for Reasonable Energy Development in Tynedale, said the MP had not considered the impact his turbines would have on the local area.
“He has given no quarter to the people who are actually going to have to live with those things,” she said.
“I was appalled when I heard he was opposing similar proposals in his constituency because it seemed to me like hypocrisy. If he does not support them in Gloucestershire I want to know why he supports them in Northumberland.
“Once the turbines have been put up the character of this area will be lost forever.”
Bill Short, another local resident, accused Mr Carmichael of “total hypocrisy”.
He said: “He is building one on his own land because it’s not going to affect him as he is down south, and he is going to make a lot of money out of it.
“He is opposing it in his own area because he will lose votes if he doesn’t – so it is entirely a matter of convenience for him.”
Back in Gloucestershire, anti-turbine campaigners said the MP should have been more open with them.
Jack Sant, chairman of Save Berkeley Vale, said: “To be fair to him I think he has understood the arguments we have put forward. He has turned up to our meetings and a number of our people have been to see him.
“My only complaint is he did not say ‘Look Jack, you ought to be aware that I am in with Npower up in Northumberland’. I found that out myself, and I thought that was a bit sneaky.”
Mr Carmichael said that he supported renewable energy and wind farms, but felt that turbines should be built in the right places and not next to Areas of Natural Outstanding Beauty.
He said: “Wind turbines should be placed where they will cause least offence. The nearest big thing to the four [Northumberland] turbines we are talking about is a quarry.”
He said the turbines would not be visible from the Kirkharle estate, adding: “I think Capability Brown would have embraced new ideas because he was a forward-thinking individual.”
The MP, who entered details of the RWE npower proposal in the Commons register of interests in October 2010, said he stood by his objection to the single existing turbine in Stroud, because it was “in the wrong place.”
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