A wind farm is to be built at the site of one of the most important battles ever fought on English soil, despite officials admitting that the scheme will “harm the setting” of the historic location.
They say that the damage the project will cause is outweighed by the need to meet renewable energy targets, and that despite their adverse impact the turbines can go ahead because they would only last for 25 years.
Proposals for an array of 415ft turbines overlooking the site of the Battle of Naseby, the decisive clash of the English Civil War, have been opposed by heritage groups and nearby residents as well as the area’s MP and the local council, which refused permission for the project.
But German-owned firm E.ON appealed their verdict to a government-appointed planning inspector, who has now overturned it, even though he acknowledged the scheme “would detract from the significance of the battlefield and harm its setting”.
Campaigners have described it as a “disgrace” and are calling on Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, to overrule his inspector.
The 1645 clash saw the parliamentarian New Model Army, under Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax defeat the royalists, under King Charles I and Prince Rupert.
Although the king was able to flee, his army was crushed and the supremacy of the parliamentarians was assured. The result meant the monarchy did not develop in the same way as absolutist regimes on the Continent and led to the advent of parliamentary democracy.
The site itself is largely undeveloped and is one of the best preserved battlefields in the country. There are viewing platforms, interpretation boards and a five-mile battlefield trail for visitors. There are also two large monuments commemorating the fighting and a scheme to build a major visitor centre is under way.
The wind farm – made up of four 415ft turbines and two at a height of 397ft – will be built in an area where the parliamentarians – or Roundheads – were drawn up into battle formation, and where they were first spotted by the royalists, or cavaliers.
Historians say the spot is crucial to understanding the outcome of the battle, because the landscape still allows visitors to see how Cromwell and Fairfax used the ground – where the turbines are to be built – to conceal their advance and gain a crucial advantage.
It is around a mile from one of the memorials and a viewpoint and just outside the area demarked by English Heritage, as the “registered battlefield area”. However, the government organisation considers it be within the battle’s “setting” area and say the development will harm key views of the battlefield.
Dr Ben Robinson, English Heritage’s inspector of ancient monuments, said: “We consider the wind turbines to be harmful to the battlefield and its setting. They will have a substantially detrimental effect on people’s experience of the battlefield within its landscape setting and we are disappointed by the decision to go ahead with the development.”
He said the battle was arguably the second most important battlefield in England, after Hastings. “Victory at Naseby was the starting point for radical changes to British society, which in turn had a major influence on world history,” he added.
Frank Baldwin, from the Battlefields Trust, which also opposed the plans, added: “The entire site at like an open air museum. It is rural and unspoilt. And this decision is a disgrace.
“There are views like those around St Paul’s Cathedral that are protected from development, quite rightly. But that should apply to historic landscapes like this.
“If you stand where King Charles stood on the day of the battle, you have the same unspoilt view that he did. Now, what you are going to see are great big wind turbines.
“The argument that you can build a wind farm because it is relatively temporary compared with the battlefield is absurd. By the same logic, there is nothing to stop you building an entire array of wind farms around Stonehenge.”
Local residents raised £57,000 to fight the plans. As well as the impact on the battlefield, they are also concerned about the noise and impact on wildlife, and argue that the area usually has low wind speeds, meaning the turbines will not operate efficiently. There are several similar schemes in the area, which is becoming known as “turbine alley”.
Simon Hunt, from Stop Kelmarsh Wind Farm group, said: “A lot of famous battles in our history simply saw a change in king. This one actually transformed the way we were governed.
“The inspector accepted all the heritage arguments but the energy arguments trumped everything, even though they are questionable. This shows that localism does not exist.”
Chris Millar, leader of Daventry district council, which turned down the original application, said the turbines would “disfigure” the battlefield.
“The judgement is an absolute joke. It is nonsense and we want the minister to call this in. What is the point of having local democratic decision making process, if it can be overturned by one man focusing only on the renewable energy targets?”
Along with Chris Heaton-Harris, the Conservative MP for the area, the council is to try to persuade ministers to overturn the decision.
Mr Heaton-Harris added: “You could argue that Naseby is where our parliamentary democracy was born. If this was in France or the USA, there would not be 400ft wind farms looming over it.
“Every level of local political representative is completely opposed to this and yet one man turns up and ignores all of that. It is anti-democratic.”
The planning inspector, Paul Griffiths, accepted that they would have a “distinct visible presence” from several of the viewpoints around the battlefield, including “Rupert’s Viewpoint”, where King Charles and Prince Rupert drew up the royal army on the morning of the battle; King Charles’ Oak, where the monarch is believed to have come under attack; and Sulby Hedges, from where the Roundheads launched a crucial attack.
He said in his report: “The wind turbines proposed would introduce another modern element into views into and across the battlefield … their presence would act as a further distraction that would make interpretation more difficult.”
However, he ruled that the scheme should go ahead because of the greater benefits of meeting renewable energy targets and because the “harmful impact” of the turbines would only last 25 years, after which they would be taken down.
The land on which the turbines are to be built is owned by a trust which runs Kelmarsh Hall, a nearby historic house. The eighteenth century property is itself is a grade I listed building where English Heritage holds an annual “Festival of History” event. The inspector agreed that the scheme would damage views from the property.
However, a spokesman for the trust said income from the turbines would go towards the £1.5 million of repairs needed to preserve the property over the next decade.
He added: “The Trust understands some of the concerns raised by, and the distress caused to, members of the community; however, the Trust is charged with the preservation of the hall and this funding will go towards safeguarding its future for many years to come.”
E. ON said: “We are confident that the site is windy enough for a development of this scale. We firmly believe that our proposal represents the right technology, in the right location to ensure energy security and combat climate change, whilst also fulfilling the local need to conserve Kelmarsh Hall and its park and gardens and we will be working closely with the local community going forward.”