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Where seeing isn’t believing

A damning report on photomontages used in a controversial planning application for a 255-foot-high wind turbine near Eglingham has been sent to planners at Northumberland County Council.

Campaigners from Sane (Save Northumberland’s Environment) commissioned a ‘forensic examination’ of the images produced as part of the application by Harehope Estate, after local people complained they were misleading.

They show 11 views towards the proposed turbine – which has been superimposed onto the landscape using computer graphics – from key vantage points, including Wooperton, East Lilburn, Ros Castle near Chillingham and Reaveley Hill in Northumberland National Park.

But the resulting report, drawn up by Architech, who are experts in windfarm visualisations, claims there are technical flaws in the photomontages and that the images both misrepresent the proposal and mislead the viewer.

It also claims that there has been a ‘disregard of the most basic industry standards’ in the Harehope presentation.

Architech concludes: “The 11 panoramic visualisations presented to show the New Bewick turbine cannot provide any assessor with a realistic impression of the proposal, they are technically flawed, do not conform to any existing guidance and can only mislead the public, planners and decision-makers alike.

“Overall, an impression is given of a single turbine which will be much smaller and much further away than it will appear in reality.”

A spokesman for Sane – which is fighting the proposals – said: “Even we were surprised at the degree to which the applicant’s photomontages had failed to follow recognised best practice.

“The experts at Architech told us at one stage that the photomontages were simply so bad that they needed more time than anticipated to try to present all the problems they had found with them.”

Andrew Joicey, a critic of many windfarm proposals in Northumberland, said the alleged deficiencies revealed by the New Bewick report were only part of a much wider problem.

“I am not at all surprised to hear that serious deficiencies have been identified,” he said. “Many wind developers ignore best practice guidance and use visualisations that understate the impacts of turbines.

“In the past, windfarm planning decisions in Northumberland have been made on the basis of grossly misleading photomontages.”

But Richard Garland from George F White, the agent acting for Harehope, said: “It is disappointing that the relatively few objectors to this application feel the need to use the press to try to generate negative publicity rather than leaving the application to the capable decision of the planning system.

“The application as submitted is accompanied by a huge amount of high-quality studies and supporting information from experienced, specialist industry professionals. The Landscape Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) submitted with the application was commissioned independently from a highly-experienced consultancy.

“Not surprisingly, the other consultant – paid a lot of money by the objectors – has tried to pick up technical issues within the LVIA.

“Their counter-report uses a lot of technical language to appear disparaging on first glance.

“However, when the comments within the report are examined, they lack substance or accuracy with regard to the original data.

“Fundamentally also, the counter-report does not disagree with the conclusion of the original LVIA report which states that the visual impact is within acceptable limits.

“This application proposes vital renewable energy for the region, at a scale designed to assimilate with the landscape and meet the local needs

“Contrary to the vocal minority, the local feeling to the application is actually very positive.”