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Medieval nuns haunt developer

Medieval nuns may return to haunt a developer by putting a halt to a proposed wind farm.

Banks Renewables wants to build five 115-metre turbines near Hamsterley Forest.

The company has already been told its wildlife survey work is not up to scratch and unless more is done, the project is likely to be refused by Durham County Council.

Banks is now in talks with wildlife experts to persuade them they are wrong. But the company now faces further opposition – this time from archaeologists.

Northern Archaeological Associates Limited said there are remains of a medieval convent in the proposed site, which is “likely to be of at least regional importance”.

Archaeologist Mary Fraser said nothing is known of the convent’s history or size.

She said planners should consider whether the impact of the wind farm on the historic remains would be too great.

If this is the case, Ms Fraser said the proposal should be refused.

Ms Fraser has written a report on behalf of Hamsterley and Upper Gaunless Valley Action Group (Hugag), which is fighting the wind farm scheme.

Ms Fraser said the convent was clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1859. The site is crossed by the proposed access track to the wind farm.

“The walls of the convent building were said to be still visible in 1853, when they were removed,” she said. “It is understood that the local farmer has previously commented that he felt there was definitely something in this area because he could feel the plough tugging when he worked this land.”

The expert said parts of building probably survive underground and could provide important clues to the past.

She said an archaeological dig was needed – to establish the significance of the remains – before the plans were determined.

“If the applicant refused to undertake a programme of trial trenching in advance of determination, then I would ask that the local planning application consider whether the application should be refused on the grounds of insufficient information,” said the archaeologist.

Banks Renewables claim the scheme would provide renewable energy for much of Teesdale and bring £12.5m of investment to the region.