A few weeks ago, a government planning inspector and a team of well-paid big energy company lawyers in dark suits showed up for a ‘site visit’ at the Manor House, Ashby St Ledgers, in Northamptonshire. Their visit was part of a public inquiry which was assessing the merits of building a wind farm nearby.
The famous manor is owned by Viscount Wimborne, a relation of Winston Churchill and the Duke of Marlborough. It is best known for the fact that the top room of the 15th-century gatehouse was the command centre for the Gunpowder Plot, when the manor was owned by Robert Catesby, who financed the attempt to blow up Parliament.
The manor’s history – with spectacular views from both sides of the gatehouse over the countryside (to make it easier to spot spies) – has given Ashby St Ledgers an important place in British history. This same view, however, which the plotters surveyed so keenly to avoid detection in 1605, could now include industrial wind turbines.
While the house and gardens are owned by Viscount Wimborne, the surrounding land is not. Thus it is that an application to build wind turbines has been made.
In most countries, such historical significance would be cherished, but not in Britain today, where the eco-obsessed metropolitan political class’s wilful desecration of our countryside is spinning out of control.
Yesterday, the Mail reported how Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has admitted that, in order to meet ‘green’ targets, Britain will have to build thousands more wind turbines.
An analysis of official figures suggests up to 32,000 new turbines could be built in the next two decades, of which at least 6,000 would be onshore.
Because of EU targets slavishly signed up to by Huhne, as well as the Government’s pledge to have 20 per cent of UK energy – at a cost of more than £100 billion – sourced from ‘renewable energy’ by 2020, some of Britain’s most glorious and important homes and estates – most of which are open to the public – are under threat of being overshadowed by this new plague.
The ancient landscapes of much of Wales and Scotland have already been destroyed – along with tourism, local jobs and property prices reduced by as much as 40 per cent by the wind farm epidemic. Montgomeryshire – which used to be one of the UK’s most beautifully unspoilt counties – is turning into a wasteland of turbines.
While it is bad enough building turbines in remote rural areas, it seems to me to be twice as bad to do the same right next to some of the most beautiful and important houses in Britain.
In Scotland, historic Glamis Castle, where the Queen Mother was brought up and where the Prince of Wales courted Diana, is facing the threat of large windmills on its doorstep after planning permission was granted for a development.
Northamptonshire in the English Midlands is a wind farm ‘hot spot’, and currently the worst-affected county in the UK – with Shakespeare’s Warwickshire quickly catching up, as well as the ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ of A.E. Housman’s Shropshire, where Grade I-listed Morville Hall is under threat from a wind turbine application just next door to the historic estate, now owned by the National Trust.
Northamptonshire is the worst, though. Information provided by Daventry District Council in June showed the total number of turbines for which applications for development had been made rose from 68 to 102 in just six months.
One of the houses which could be affected is 18th-century Easton Neston, the Grade I country house which is regarded as one of Europe’s greatest. The former home of Lord Hesketh – once a Tory junior minister – the property was bought for £15 million nine years ago by Russian fashion boss Leon Max, who has spent tens of millions renovating it and restoring it to its former glory.
English architecture simply doesn’t get better than Easton Neston, but there is now a wind farm proposal which, if it is allowed to go ahead, will spoil the surrounding historic landscape.
Other great houses affected in Northamptonshire include Winwick Manor, near Crick, the 15th-century former home of Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote Morte D’Arthur, the original tale of King Arthur and his knights.
One hundred per cent of the local village – population around 70 – has voted in the parish council to oppose the wind farm proposed there: the decision will be taken shortly by the same government inspector who will rule on the development of new turbines next to the Gunpowder Plot house of Ashby St Ledgers.
The MP for East Northants, Louise Mensch, has been forthright in her volley of letters to the local council and planning ministers decrying the cultural harm which could be wreaked on the area if these wind turbine applications go through, most notably the application by the Duke of Gloucester for a site near his estate at Barnwell Manor.
The Tory MP has drawn attention to the threat from wind farms to Grade I Drayton House, at Lowick, near Kettering, which is the magnificent ancient home of a branch of the aristocratic Sackville family.
She is also trying to protect Grade I Boughton House – the family palace of the Duke of Buccleuch – known as the ‘Versailles’ of England, with its unique collection of stunning pieces created for the French royal family.
When Leon Max of Easton Neston recently learned about the wind farm proposal, his reaction was one of sheer disbelief that a Tory-led government could be so determined to destroy the very thing – our unique architecture and heritage – that he came to Britain to enjoy.
‘It would be inconceivable in America to start putting up huge wind turbines next to, say, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello [the former American President’s 5,000-acre plantation home in Virginia], yet in Britain it is now government policy to have almost no protection for some of the finest houses in the land, just to please Brussels bureaucrats.’
How ironic that it takes a foreigner to identify the sheer bloody-minded stupidity of this policy – remember the 3,000 or so onshore wind turbines we have so far generate less than two per cent of the nation’s power.
But then I didn’t need Mr Max to tell me this drive to carpet Britain with wind farms is deeply misguided.
I’m all too aware of the problem because the threat hangs over my own place, Upton Cressett Hall, an Elizabethan manor and gatehouse in Shropshire which is open to the public and has been described as an ‘Elizabethan gem’.
A local farmer has proposed a development of two giant turbines, both standing fully 245ft, and within sight of my home, which last week won the ‘Hidden Gem’ prize at the Hudson’s Heritage Awards – the Oscars of the heritage industry – making it officially one of the little treasures of English heritage. What I found particularly exasperating is that the application for the turbines to be built did not mention the presence of Upton Cressett at all, as though proximity to heritage sites simply doesn’t matter.
During the course of my investigation into this new blight spreading across the country, I have compiled a list of nearly 100 historic sites of significant importance close to which planning applications for wind turbines have been made. And this number is growing.
These turbine proposals are put forward by landowners, farmers and developers who, in my view, are driven by self-interested commercial greed.
Recently, it emerged that the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, is making almost £350,000 a year from a publicly-funded wind farm on his Lincolnshire estate. He earns that sum – which he described as ‘modest’ – in ‘rent’ every year from the consortium which owns the turbines.
Such wind farms are heavily subsidised by public money under a scheme introduced by Labour to promote renewable energy.
Of course, all those residents whose views will be ruined, or who might be driven potty by the constant humming noise from these wind farms, will get no compensation, and have no real say because the Government’s draft planning reforms state that climate change is a priority and there is a ‘presumption in favour of development’.
Not only that, there are no clear government guidelines for how ‘heritage assets’ can be protected. The result is that a developer can basically stick a wind farm anywhere he likes, and I understand that well over half of these wind farm planning applications are eventually approved.
That’s why the case for reforming planning laws in relation to the protection of heritage sites is both urgent and overwhelming. A Commons select committee recently wrote to David Cameron to say that the controversial plans to introduce a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ to planning rules were ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘confusing’.
Another Tory MP who opposes such developments close to important heritage sites is Chris Heaton-Harris, who has described the lack of clarity with regards to the positioning of wind farms as a ‘poison in the system’.
Before you dismiss these arguments as being outdated or somehow the preserve of a small number of landed types who don’t want their views spoiled, consider the fact that according to English Heritage, a third of those visiting this country today do so because of heritage and royalty.
Indeed, the 1,300 ‘heritage tourism’ properties open to the public in the UK – split between the National Trust, English Heritage and the Historic Houses Association – play a critical role in bringing in more than £12 billion to the economy. The heritage industry is growing at 2.6 per cent a year – which is more than manufacturing – partly because of foreign visitors, but also because many British people prefer not to go abroad now and instead visit important houses in their own country.
But how many will want to visit them if they are surrounded by clusters of turbines looking like something from the hill of Golgotha?
The late Poet Laureate John Betjeman regarded our national architecture and heritage as the visible manifestation of society’s spiritual life, as well as a barometer of our political and economic self-belief. There is nothing he despised more than the local planning bureaucrats and property spivs who regarded the ‘spirit of the place’ as irrelevant to their self-interested money-making schemes.
How horrified he would have been to witness the despoiling of glorious landscapes which have remained unchanged for centuries – but which are now falling victim to the misguided creed of green policies, abused in the name of naked greed.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding