Northumberland National Park chief John Riddle yesterday called for an urgent rethink on Government wind-farm strategy to protect the region’s most treasured landscapes.
A deluge of applications has hit Northumberland, leading to growing fears that parts of the county could be overrun by turbines. Government policy encourages green energy development, and wind farm developers have targeted Northumberland’s wide open spaces.
Turbines are banned from the National Park, but a number of developments are planned close to its borders, with one just 100 yards away.
Yesterday Coun Riddle said: “I think there is a real need for a rethink on strategy. Wind farms are not a guaranteed success. How many jobs do they create and how much energy do they produce? If the wind doesn’t blow, what guarantee is there?
“We should be looking at things in the round, and not putting all our eggs in one basket.
“I’m a great supporter of small-scale wind energy, but I am not happy with the exploitation of the wild Northumbrian landscape and the great attraction that we have here being decimated by money-making developers.
“When you get down to it, I don’t believe wind farms stack up economically in themselves. They only stack up economically because of the huge subsidies they get.”
Coun Riddle, who farms in Bellingham, close to the Northumberland National Park boundary, is also worried at the impact of wind farms on the national park.
Although the park is protected by law against wind farm development within its boundaries, the fringe zone is not safeguarded.
Controversial proposals for a windfarm at Middle Hill, Elsdon, has thrown the situation into focus.
Nine 125-metre turbines are planned just a mile from the park boundary, and Coun Riddle said: “The national park is protected from wind farms … but there is no buffer strip.
“So the turbines can be seen from the national park, and that affects the spectrum of the park itself.”
Colin Horncastle, who represents South Tynedale on the county council, said he was concerned developers were winning permission to build on land but then not getting on with the work.
He said: “I would like to see a 12-month condition put on developers to start work, after which permission is rescinded. It is making future applications from wind farm companies easier and they are going to keep coming and coming and coming.
“It’s not Northumberland County Council’s fault because all we can do is either pass or refuse applications … we don’t build the wind farms. But we are getting criticism from green energy people for not meeting their targets.
“And communities where people have paid good money for a peaceful lifestyle are not even getting the benefits.
“The money is going to these companies, many of which are foreign, and that is salt in the wound. There have to be checks and balance so that people have a quality of life.”
In Northumberland, five wind farm developments – Green Rigg, Middlemoor, Wandylaw, Berwick and Ray – date back more than a year to the date of planning permission but have not started. A spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association said: “We feel any time restriction would be unfair. The problem companies face is the credit crunch. Bank finance and the like is harder to get, and takes more time.
“Some companies are getting planning permission and then finding it hard to get finance, and in some cases energy firms are selling on.”