In recent months it seems rarely a week goes by in our newsroom when information about a wind farm proposal, application or appeal does not land in our inboxes at the Chronicle & Echo.
With an ever-growing list of sites for me to keep an eye on for updates – currently standing at 21 – it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) contacted us this week about its fears that Northamptonshire is becoming the wind farm capital of the country.
The majority of applications submitted to district councils in Northamptonshire for wind farms have been turned down, yet five of those have been overturned by a Planning Inspectorate, five more are going through the process.
Developers have relentlessly descended on the county, which is single-handedly in line to meet the entire East Midlands’ target for wind farms, with each echoing the other’s words that their application “is in the right location”.
As the applications rolled in, there was undoubtedly an outcry of “nimbysm” across the county from some people, as villages woke up to the threat of an industrial wind farm on their doorstep.
But alongside the lack of respect being shown for our beautiful landscape, historic stately homes and quiet villages, the locations are being disputed for an entirely different reason.
Campaigners blame so-called Obligations Certificate payments, generous incentives offered by the Government to help them meet carbon reduction targets.
Coupled with the county’s vast rural countryside and lack of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, green belts or airport exclusion zones, it does indeed create a “right” location for a wind farm application for developers.
With councils unable to turn down applications on the basis of efficiency, it doesn’t matter that Northamptonshire has one of the poorest wind resources in Britain.
However, that is something the chairman of Daventry District Council’s planning committee, Frank Wiig, is hoping to change by petitioning the Government, which will free up a huge amount of his planning officers’ time and council money.
The need for renewable energy in the 21st century is an undisputed fact and, of course, there is probably never going to be a perfect location for a wind farm which won’t intrude on communities or the environment in some way.
But there is a fear that our celebrated countryside is being ruined by unreliable, inefficient wind farm projects, solely because Government subsidies are making them viable.
Without them, the CPRE for one, believes Northamptonshire would be spared by developers because wind farms in the county would simply be uneconomical.
Back in October I wrote a feature highlighting Daventry district’s influx of applications, but I couldn’t find a developer willing to talk to me about the impact of the Government’s renewable energy subsidies on their proposals.
The level of activity by campaign and action groups is staggering, with tens of thousands of pounds spent in David vs Goliath-style battles to protect villages, stately homes and forests from developers who it seems can breeze their applications through to the highest court without concern. One of the key points that frustrated campaigners is the notion that the Government’s planning inspectorates are taking advantage of the county to hit their own energy targets, with no regard for objections against them.
It casts a shadow over the much-anticipated Localism Bill, designed to give local communities more say over what should be built in their area.
We should add that a number of pro-wind farm groups exist around the county, who often add balance to our articles.
However, it is fair to say their fervour in fighting in favour of proposals is often outweighed, in both number and ferocity, by the anti-lobby.
Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, Andrea Leadsom, said last year that subsidy cuts of 10 per cent for wind farm developers could lead to a drop in applications, but campaigners remain sceptical about its impact.
Despite the cut, wind farms could still represent a risk-free investment for developers for the time being, which means applications will undoubtedly keep coming through, marking our landscape, clogging up our planning system, and filling our news pages.
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