The idyllic setting of one of Britain’s finest Elizabethan stately homes is being threatened by plans for a new wind farm.
For centuries, Upton Cressett Hall has nestled in the Shropshire Hills.
Like many of England’s great homes it has played a small part in others’ fights as history unfolded around it, but now it faces a battle of its own.
On one side are the forces of the wind farm development lobby, with plans for two turbines, each higher than Nelson’s Column, less than a mile from the hall’s grounds.
On the other is the family of Bill Cash, the Conservative MP, who are fighting to stop the generators which they say would ruin forever the hall’s historic setting.
Now the Cashes have secured what they hope will be a breakthrough in their battle: the hall, its Elizabethan gatehouse and 12th century Norman church have been awarded Grade I listed status.
They believe it will help prevent the building of turbines so close to Upton Cressett, an area they say has been “unspoilt and untouched” for more than 800 years.
The case is the latest in the tense stand-off between wind farm developers, driven by a government push for vast increases in the number of turbines, and those who oppose them – saying they are eyesores, and ineffective at generating clean energy.
Upton Cressett Hall, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire, is a combination of 14th century great hall and Elizabethan manor, which was praised by Nikolaus Pevsner, in his gazetteer of English architecture, as “remarkable” and by Sir John Betjeman, the former poet laureate as “beautiful”.
In its long history it is said to have been a stopping place in 1483 for Edward V on his way to the Tower of London where he would meet his death, while its Elizabethan gateway was, according to local legend, a hiding place for Prince Rupert, the Royalist cavalry commander, during the Civil War.
In 1970, fallen into disrepair, it became the family home of Bill Cash, who was drawn by its unspoilt views and who set about restoring it.
But last year a new threat to its future emerged, a plan for a local wind farm.
The proposal to erect the two 255ft high turbines on farm land overlooking Upton Cressett’s gatehouse is by Crida Community Wind, an organisation whose members include two local wind energy co-operatives, Sustainable Bridgnorth and Sharenergy.
No formal planning application has yet been submitted, but work has begun on measuring wind speeds in the area to work out how much electricity could be generated.
The news of the wind farm proposal prompted a campaign, led by Mr Cash’s son William, a magazine publisher, to protect the hall.
Now he has achieved a victory by having English Heritage declare the hall, gatehouse and church a monument.
To acquire Grade I listed status buildings or monuments must be deemed to have “exceptional architectural merit”.
The listing will, he believes, make it far more difficult for wind turbines to be built nearby, after a precedent was set when a planning inspector ruled that the views of another Grade I listed house must not be harmed by turbines.
The application for a wind farm to be erected around a mile from Kimbolton Castle, in Huntingdonshire, the former royal palace of Catherine of Aragon, was rejected at an appeal hearing when the inspector described the historic buildings as of “very significant heritage value”.
He ruled that, viewed from the Robert Adam Grade I gatehouse, the “turbines would be a modern, elevated, intrusive feature in the countryside to the north seen from many parts of the grounds that would be difficult to avoid in interpreting the setting of these buildings.”
Mr Cash said that he and others would now be using this ruling, and that he expected it to prevent development near Upton Cressett. English Heritage says that such status should be treated with importance in the planning process.
If the tactic is successful it will encourage campaigners who fear that the spread of turbines across the country threatens the setting of other historic houses.
Mr Cash said: “The landscape and ancient buildings around Upton Cressett have been unspoilt and untouched by developers for well over 800 years.
“In addition, the hamlet includes an important part of the Jack Mytton Way, Shropshire’s flagship tourist trail for riders, walkers and cyclists.
“I hope attaining Grade I listed status puts an end to any misconceived and dangerous idea of straddling the Jack Mytton Way with two giant industrial wind turbines.
“We now have three Grade I listed buildings and three scheduled ancient monuments at the settlement of Upton Cressett.
“I hope this new statutory designation sends out a clear government-endorsed message that Upton Cressett is one of Shropshire’s special heritage assets and deserves full protection, so the asset can be enjoyed by both tourists visiting Shropshire and the local community.”
The wind farms are also being opposed by Philip Dunne, defence minister and MP for Ludlow.
He said: “I sincerely hope the developers will now have the good sense to drop the proposed wind farm proposal in the light of the clear message sent out by English Heritage with regards to the importance of protecting Shropshire’s historic landscape and hills.
“It would seriously threaten the historic tourism and equestrian holiday industry that is so important to Shropshire’s economy.”
A spokesman for Crida Community Wind said: “The site and turbines have been carefully chosen to minimise impact on landscape, wildlife, noise and other concerns.
“We estimate that the turbines will produce around 10 per cent of the electricity used by households in Bridgnorth.”
It said the turbines would be owned by a co-operative open to anyone with a minimum investment of £250.
The income from the turbines would return to the members of the co-operative. Furthermore a fund of £10,000 would be set up for spending on local community projects, it added.
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