A study should be carried out into the potential impacts of the growing number of wind farms being approved in Northumberland on the county’s vital tourism industry, it is claimed.
County councillor Wayne Daley says the huge importance of the visitor industry means a detailed local assessment is needed on whether tourists and their spending power will be affected by scores of huge turbines going up in the next few years.
His call for local research to be commissioned on the implications for tourism – which is said to support more than 13,000 jobs and pump £665m into the county’s economy – comes amid claims by a fellow councillor that Northumberland is in danger of becoming a “turbine landscape”.
However, a senior planning official says such a study would be difficult to carry out, because Northumberland doesn’t have sufficient wind turbines built yet.
County council head of development services, Karen Ledger, said similar research carried out in other parts of the UK has not revealed a negative impact on tourism.
The exchanges came as the council’s planning and environment committee gave the green light for another wind farm in Northumberland.
Renewables company Infinis will be allowed to build four turbines, each 126 metres high, on the former Sisters opencast site near the villages of Widdrington and Widdrington Station.
Another company, Peel Energy, is seeking permission for a 13-turbine wind farm nearby, as part of the £200m Blue Sky Forest tourism and leisure project. Both sites are on the Northumberland coastal route used by tourists and visitors.
Coun Daley said in assessing the tourism implications of wind turbines, the council was relying on research carried out in Scotland, which was several years out of date.
He said it was time Northumberland had its own assessment of the potential economic impacts.
“I wonder whether we are using the correct baseline now we are in an economic recession. I do feel it is a major gap in our decision-making when we don’t have this sort of assessment of what is a huge part of our economy. As a committee we should suggest this is something that should be done, because these turbines are of such an overwhelming size they could have a very detrimental effect on us. We need a definitive economic impact assessment on this.”
Coun Dougie Watkin said he was “saddened” by the prospect of long distance views being dominated by the massive machines. “We have got rid of the pit heaps but they are being replaced by a major wind farm landscape,” he added.
Ms Ledger said: ”It would be very difficult to carry out a proper assessment (on the potential tourism impacts) because we don’t have very many wind farms constructed in Northumberland yet. All the research that has been done across the country has not come up with the conclusion that wind turbines have a negative effect on tourism.”
Northumberland has 14 operational turbines, 13 more have been built near Lynemouth, about 100 others have been given planning permission and between 170 and 200 are at early project stages.
Giles Ingram, chief executive of Northumberland Tourism, said: “Clearly there is a split in opinion on wind turbines. I feel any research on this would only be useful if it proved to be a valid and meaningful part of the future planning process,” he added.
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