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Storm brews over wind farm plan

The battle over plans to build a wind farm in the Berkeley Vale has reached a planning inspector who visited the controversial site.

Government inspector Richard Thomas visited the fields at Standle Farm in Stinchcombe, near Dursley, where Stroud-based green energy firm Ecotricity hopes to build four 120 metre high turbines.

Mr Thomas then heard evidence from Ecotricity and Stroud District Council (SDC), whose members have earlier rejected the proposal. The hearing at the council’s Ebley Mill headquarters continued into an extra day.

The final stage of proceedings focused on whether the proposal complied with national planning and renewable energy regulations.

David Hardy, representing Ecotricity, said the wind turbines would have a less enduring impact than other forms of energy generation.

“At the point of decommissioning, the landscape of Berkeley Vale would be exactly the same as someone would see today,” he argued. “There’s no permanent damage to the landscape infrastructure.”

He also referred to other planning inquiries, including at Chelveston in Bedfordshire where a government inspector had allowed a nine-turbine wind farm to go ahead, stating: “The reduction in carbon emissions must carry significant weight in planning decisions.”

Paul Smith, representing SDC, said: “We have acknowledged that the need for renewable energy is a factor and it is the inspector’s decision to decide how much weight is applied to that need.”

Mr Smith explained that SDC had supported renewable energy elsewhere and that each scheme should be assessed individually.
Around a dozen campaigners from the Save Berkeley Vale action group attended the hearing.

They have argued that the impact of the turbines on neighbours, the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and on heritage sites like Berkeley Castle were all reasons to refuse the Ecotricity scheme.

“We are still hopeful and confident that Ecotricity will not get permission,” said Jack Sant, chairman of Save Berkeley Vale.

“To build turbines on Standle Farm is totally inappropriate, because of the impact on the AONB and the proximity to a number of properties.”

An earlier hearing in January had seen both sides present evidence on the scheme’s visual and landscape impact.

The original application, for eight turbines at the site, provoked outrage among Stinchcombe residents when they were first revealed by Ecotricity’s sister company Next Generation three years ago.

The plans were scaled back to four turbines, which Ecotricity said could provide green energy for more than 7,000 homes.
But critics said they would stick out like a sore thumb.

The council’s development control committee turned down the application in April 2011, due to its impact on the landscape, against council planning officers’ advice.