December 15, 2012

MP’s urge council chiefs to oppose future County Durham wind farms

By Robert Merrick, Parliamentary Correspondent | The Northern Echo | 15 December 2012 |

MPs have joined forces to urge council chiefs to oppose any further wind farm proposals in County Durham – arguing the area is full up.

Five MPs, led by Sedgefield’s Phil Wilson, have penned a letter to Durham County Council’s leader, urging him to “step back and consider the visual impact any further proliferation of wind farms will have on the local landscape”.

The letter comes hard-on-the-heels of Mr Wilson’s Bill, in the Commons this week, demanding that local planners – not a government minister, advised by a quango – decide on major proposals.

The letter reads: “We know that Durham County Council has a great reputation on the development of renewable energy and was the first local authority to develop a renewable energy strategy in 1994.

“The county hosts 17 operational wind farms, a further six have planning permission but are yet to be built. Another 13 are in planning and this does not include the proposed 24 turbine wind farm at The Isles near Newton Aycliffe.

“We support the county council’s pursuit of other forms of renewable energy, but wind farm development, we believe, is reaching, or has reached, its full potential in County Durham.

“We would like the council to take into consideration our views on this matter when considering future wind farm applications.”

The letter has been signed by fellow Labour MPs Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham), Pat Glass (North West Durham), Kevan Jones (North Durham) and Grahame Morris (Easington).

Last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s Labour leader, said: “I welcome the letter and understand the case that the MPs are making.

“It is not sustainable for some parts of the country to put up more and more wind turbines, when other parts don’t. There needs to be a fair share, contributing to energy policy.”

However, the push to block further developments in County Durham will run into the very obstacle raised by Mr Wilson, in the Commons.

At present, the decision on any wind farm generating more than 50 megawatts of electricity is made by the Energy Secretary – as a project of ‘national significance’.

That means an automatic “call in” for E.ON’s plans for the 24-turbine wind development near Newton Aycliffe, called The Isles, which is currently out to consultation.

Turbines could be built within a mile of Newton Aycliffe and Chilton, and close to Woodham, Bradbury, Mordon and Preston-le-Skerne, either side of the A1(M) and close to the A167.

Furthermore, similar rules will be followed for gas-fracking projects, which will be fast-tracked by the government as vital for the nation’s infrastructure.

Among the areas thought to have significant reserves of shale rock are Teesdale and Northumberland – opening up the process of pumping water, sand and chemicals underground, to release gas.

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