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Campaign groups clash over growth in giant wind turbines

“Powerless” Westcountry communities are seeing a huge surge in the number of onshore wind turbines, according to a new report which is calling for policy change.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has singled out Cornwall as one of two counties nationwide where “the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines without unacceptable damage has been exceeded”.

But campaign group Friends of the Earth responded that turbines were part of the solution to climate change, which it called “one of the biggest threats to our countryside”.

“CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations,” said its chief executive Shaun Spiers. “Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.”

The report – Generating Light on Landscape impacts: How to Accommodate Onshore Wind while Protecting the Countryside – states that Cornwall has 94 operational turbines over 30 metres tall, with a further 18 consented and 11 in planning. It also expressed similar concerns over projects in Devon.

CPRE is calling for a change towards a locally accountable, strategically planned approach to onshore wind development.

In 2008 there were 685 turbines measuring 30 metres or taller either completed, in construction, or awaiting approval nationwide. By 2010 the number had increased to 1,831 and at the start of 2012 it had soared to 3,442.

Applications made by March this year brought the total to more than 4,100. The statistics do not include turbines smaller then 30 metres which also add significantly to the strain on the planning system in many areas, CPRE said.

Mr Spires said: “We must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection. Otherwise we will sacrifice the beauty and tranquillity of much-loved landscapes for at least a generation.”

CPRE is calling on Government for more clarity on the number of windfarms it expects to see built and their locations.

It wants a strategic-led approach which recognises landscape capacity, with planning authorities seeking to protect landscape character through local plans and the Planning Inspectorate instructed to give enough weight to those plans.

It also wants the wind industry to be legally obliged to restore the landscape once turbines reach the end of their life.

Friends of the Earth regional director Mike Birkin said locally-sourced green energy was good for Devon and Cornwall, providing new jobs and helping to tackle soaring fuel bills and reduce a reliance of fossil fuels.

He said: “Wind turbines should always be sensitively sited, but one of the biggest threats to our countryside is climate change – and this is exactly what wind power can help defeat.

“It’s time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money.”