Medieval nuns could haunt plans for a £12.5m wind farm in County Durham.
Developer Banks Renewables want to build five 115-metre turbines near Hamsterley Forest, close to the home of TV botanist David Bellamy.
But local residents, supported by archaeologists, say work could destroy the remains of a medieval convent in the proposed site, which is likely to be of at least regional importance.
And Mary Fraser, an archaeologist based in nearby Barnard Castle, said geophysical surveys have indicated there was a convent on the site and more archaeological work needed to be done to establish the exact nature and importance of the settlement.
She said: “I don’t believe Banks Renewables has carried out sufficient research to establish the precise location of the convent. There would have been a mixture of buildings, some ecclesiastical, some residential and some agricultural.
“Durham University has carried out a geophysical survey which indicates the presence of a settlement.
“It could well be that a dig is required to find out more about the nature of the site.”
Ms Fraser has written a report on behalf of Hamsterley Upper Gaunless Action Group (Hugag), which is fighting the wind farm scheme.
She 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 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 the area because he could feel the plough tugging when he worked this land.” Ms Frazer said parts of the building probably survive under the ground and could provide important clues to the past.
“If Banks refuse 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 say the scheme would provide renewable energy for much of Teesdale and bring £12.5m of investment to the region.
Phil Dyke, development director at Banks Renewables, said: “We strongly believe that the proposed site for the Windy Bank scheme is a wholly appropriate location for the type of scheme we’re putting forward, and are confident that this will be recognised by Durham County Council’s planning committee.
“The £12.5m Windy Bank wind farm would bring with it a substantial variety of benefits to the surrounding area, from jobs being created during the construction phase of the project and local construction companies being able to tender for related contracts worth around £3m through to the provision of a fund that would provide around £625,000 of support for local community groups, environmental and voluntary projects during the wind farm’s 25-year lifespan.
“Archaeological investigations that are carried out to specific standards form part of the environmental assessment work that we’ve been undertaking for the Windy Bank planning application and it is not unusual to find items of archaeological interest on potential sites for development.
“We will continue to work with all relevant bodies to provide any additional information that is required.”
The walls of the convent were said to be still visible in 1853, when they were removed
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