Heritage sites around the country will be ruined by wind farms, the National Trust has warned after 300ft turbines got the go ahead near Lyveden New Bield, one of England’s most important stately homes.
The incomplete 16th century manor in Northamptonshire is believed to be the finest example of an Elizabethan garden in the world and has protection status on a par with Hampton Court.
Yet four 400ft turbines will be going up 0.6 miles (1km) from the historic ruins and be visible from nearly every part of the estate.
The Planning Inspectorate gave the go-ahead for the industrial structures because the green energy will help to meet climate change targets, despite protests from Louise Mensch, the local MP, heritage organisations and local people.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said the decision could set a precedent for allowing wind turbines near nationally important historic sites.
“This decision is a landmark case which undermines the protection of our heritage sites. The National Trust sees this development having a substantial impact on the setting of a historic site of the highest designation,” she said.
“It provides a clear indication that our cultural heritage is at great risk from inappropriately sited wind turbines and wind farms. If the impacts here are not such to amount to substantial harm on our nation’s heritage it is difficult to conceive where they would be.”
The Trust, that owns more than 700 miles of coastline, 28,500 acres of countryside and more than 500 properties, is officially in favour of renewable energy but increasingly concerned about the impact of wind turbines.
It is currently fighting at least half a dozen plans to build turbines, including a massive offshore farm in the Bristol Channel and plans by the Duke of Gloucester to install a wind farm on his property.
Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust, claims turbines are the “least efficient” form of green power and risk blighting the British landscape.
The charity, that has four million members, is also fighting Government proposals to reform the planning system so that developers find it easier to build large infrastructure such as wind farms.
Dame Fiona said the decision to allow a wind farm near Lyveden New Bield, that is visited by thousands of people every year, shows planners are not taking heritage seriously enough.
She feared other properties may now be in danger.
“This decision is not only damaging for Lyveden New Bield, but for the credibility of onshore wind proposals which must be located, designed and on a scale that avoids compromising the special qualities of their locality,” she added.
The UK already has more than 3,500 turbines and 800 more will be completed this year alone. By 2020, the industry hope to have built around 10,000 in total.
Mrs Mensch is so concerned about the threat to historic properties from wind turbines she is writing to the Energy Secretary to protest.
Already 100 MPs have written to David Cameron protesting that onshore wind farms are being developed at the expense of the countryside.
“The approval of this wind farm is completely inappropriate for this beautiful area. It will dominate this Elizabethan garden, and despite the strongly held views of local people, permission has been granted,” she said.
“We have a problem in this country with both our planning system and energy policy. Local people need to be able to have a say when it comes to significant physical developments such as wind turbines. In this case it seems as though local views have been ignored. The overemphasis placed on renewable energy also makes a significant contribution to wind farms being imposed on local communities.”
Paul Griffiths, the Planning Inspector, agreed that the moving turbines would ‘introduce a man-made feature, of significant scale, into the experience of the place’ that would ‘cause harm to the setting’ but the turbines would produce enough low carbon energy to justify this.
“In my view, the significant benefits of the proposal in terms of the energy it would produce from a renewable source outweigh the less than substantial harm it would cause to the setting of designated heritage assets and the wider landscape,” he said.
The four 10MW turbines will produce enough renewable energy to meet the equivalent needs of some 5730 homes on an annual basis.
In its annual report on green subsidies, Ofgem said households are paying £15.15 on the annual energy bill for renewables and £4.68 of that supporting onshore wind.
By comparison, the rising cost of imported gas added around £120 to energy bills last year.