Wind farm developers are using the Coalition’s new planning laws to challenge a local ban on building turbines next to houses, documents reveal.
RWE npower, the German energy giant, is threatening to take Milton Keynes Council to court over plans to stop big turbines being built less than 1.2km from housing.
The council is one of the first in the country to impose such a minimum distance, amid complaints that wind farms spoil views and cause noise pollution. Dozens of Conservative MPs are currently pushing for nationwide limits to stop wind farms coming too close to housing.
However, the Milton Keynes ban could affect RWE’s plans to put 17 wind turbines on two different sites in the face of strong local opposition.
David Cameron has claimed the Government’s planning laws “ensure that local people and their councils decide what people need”.
But the legal threat suggests councils will face court battles as companies try to prove the new laws promoting “sustainable development” override local interest.
RWE told the council its rules are against the Government’s “national policy” in a letter sent by its City law firm Eversheds.
The company argues the local policy is “unlawful” because the Coalition’s National Planning Policy Framework encourages generation of green energy where possible.
It claims the council’s view should be “accorded no weight” in any decision making process, as it has “no rational basis”.
The letter also challenges the council to take back its decision or risk “a considerable burden to the public purse” in legal fees.
Campaigners yesterday called the company’s move a “direct threat to local democracy”.
Mark Lancaster, MP for Milton Keynes North, said the developers should not be trying to undermine the wishes of a local community.
He said: “Having voted in favour of the Localism Act because of its ability to empower and encourage decision making at a local level, it will come as no surprise that I am deeply concerned and opposed to a large multinational business trying to undermine its intent and wishes of local residents by threatening the council with legal action.”
Richard Pryor, a resident of Milton Keynes, said he was shocked that RWE are “attempting to bully the council into ignoring a democratic process”.
He said the majority of people backed the ban on wind turbines too close to housing in the council’s public consultation”.
“The new policy would not be a blanket ban on wind turbines in Milton Keynes, but would ensure industrial wind turbines are sited away from homes,” he said. “It is entirely appropriate for a local authority to introduce policies that protect its residents”.
Under the policy, Milton Keynes wants to make sure small wind turbines less than 25m high are 350 metres away from housing, medium-sized ones are 1 kilometre away and typical large ones are 1.2km away.
Wayne Cranstone, project director for RWE npower renewables, said the national policy “urges local planning authorities to maximise the generation of renewable energy whilst ensuring an appropriate level of protection for residential occupiers”.
“Effect on the occupiers of a home close to a wind farm have to be judged on a case by case basis,” he said. “It is not simply a case of prescribed distances. Many other factors such as size of the wind farm, orientation of the property, topography and local screening are all very important. There is no hard evidence to justify such a restriction on renewable developments.”