Two West Cumbrian councillors have criticised a Government decision to overrule a request for information about a planned wind turbine as flying in the face of localism.
Allerdale council development panel members Nicky Cockburn and Bill Finlay have been angered after the Secretary of State told the agent involved in a plan to build a turbine at Wellington Farm, near Cockermouth, that he did not need to submit a report to Allerdale council about its environmental impact, despite the council requesting one.
They would like to see the rules changed to prevent the Government getting involved in the planning process before an application has been submitted or considered.
Coun Cockburn said: “It’s Big Brother, not localism and big society.
“It just doesn’t seem at all democratic if somebody from Birmingham can come up and make a decision like this when the recent Broughton Lodge wind farm appeal said there would be a cumulative visual impact with any more turbines in the area.
“It’s flying in the face of anybody being able to make an informed representation to the council.”
Planning consultant Jim Harley contacted the council in October to request a screening opinion regarding any evidence and information that the council may need to determine an application, if one was submitted.
The council responded in November, stating that it thought an environmental impact assessment was needed, which would cover issues from visual impact and noise to wildlife.
Mr Harley then asked the Secretary of State for a screening direction, which is the standard appeal system.
The response from the office of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said: “In cumulative terms, the proposed turbine is unlikely to have a significant visual impact.
“On balance, there is not considered to be a likelihood of a significant landscape visual impact on the national park.
“An environmental impact assessment is therefore not required.”
The ruling has just come to light after Mr Harley put in a new request for a screening opinion, having amended the plan.
The council will now consider that request separately and the Secretary of State’s ruling relates only to the previous request.
Coun Cockburn said she believed the Government’s ability to intervene in planning matters before an application had even been submitted undermined the supposed “localism” inititiative and the new focus, under national planning policy, for local people to have more say in what happens in their communities.
She said it was not an issue of being pro or anti-wind farms but of applications being fully and openly considered.
She added: “If you then have a full planning application how can the development panel view this when they already know that the Secretary of State has made a ruling that there’s no cumulative visual impact on the national park?”
Coun Finlay said that the Secretary of State’s pre-application ruling could undermine any future decision of the council, which would be based on factors including opinion and evidence received through public consultation.
Workington MP Tony Cunningham has offered to write on Coun Cockburn’s behalf to Greg Clark, the Communities and Local Government Minister.