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Windfarms face new restrictions in shake-up of planning policy

New restrictions could be placed on Northumberland windfarm development in a shake-up of planning policies.

Northumberland County Council’s Executive has agreed to begin the next stage of consultation on the Core Strategy, which will ultimately set out future land-use policies for the area.

Key proposals, such as changes to Green Belt boundaries, employment sites and housing requirements, are not included in the consultation as they have been deferred for further research to be carried out.

But the bulk of the draft policies, including sections on town centres, the rural economy, tourism, coal extraction, renewable energy, waste and transport, are now ready for discussion.

And one of the hottest topics is likely to be plans for future windfarm development.

The document states that Northumberland has significant potential to deliver renewable and low carbon energy, particularly from onshore wind, biomass and hydro power, but it must be balanced with the need to protect the environment and communities.

It is proposed that future large-scale windfarm applications would have to consider the cumulative impact of other consented schemes on the area, and for the first time planners are suggesting a minimum separation distance between turbines and homes of six times the turbine height.

The proposal has come after an initial Issues and Options consultation on the strategy last summer found widespread support for such controls.

Coun Glen Sanderson, who has twice put motions before the council calling for similar restrictions, said: “I very much welcome the fact that the county council has listened to people out there who have expressed their concerns very clearly.

“The response to the original document showed that people are very determined to make sure that the council toughens up its planning policies.

“As far as the Conservatives are concerned, we recognise that renewable energy does play a part, but we think there are other ways of providing that, such as biomass or wave power.”

Coun Sanderson said the recent rejection of a windfarm application for Fenrother had much to do with strong public campaigning and research, and he urged everyone who is concerned about turbine development in the county to make sure they have their say in the Proposed Options consultation.

“It is not just in Northumberland where people are making their voices heard. There are 151 anti-windfarm groups in the country now. It is all about people power,” he said.

“I think the Fenrother decision was assisted enormously by people not being prepared to be walked over, by people managing to have their voices heard. That is what happened to this Core Strategy that we now have out for consultation. It reflects what people have told the council over the last 12 months.

“People do need to have their say again. The council is seeking their views about issues such as separation distances and cumulative impact. I urge people to go to all the events that are being held and to write to the council to reaffirm the message that they have already given to influence the council to ensure that its planning policy is toughened up.”

He added: “We don’t want to see the landscape destroyed by a plethora of windfarms that would mean our children and our children’s children would not be able to enjoy and appreciate the beautiful landscape we enjoy now.

“The worry is that unless we toughen up we will be snowed under by turbines.”

The council is also suggesting an ‘energy hierarchy’ approach to sustainable development, prioritising energy reduction and efficiency.

All development proposals would have to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability to achieve high energy efficiency and low carbon energy generation. Measures could include smart heating and lighting, use of ‘passive’ design features, better insulation, the use of renewable energy such as solar panels, wind, biomass, hydro and geothermal, and the use of low carbon technology like heat pumps and CHP systems.

County Executive Member for Planning, Housing and Regeneration Tom Brechany said: “Here in Northumberland we have huge potential for renewable energy generation and it would be foolish, especially with fuel poverty levels being so high, not to think about how to make the most of it.

“Our political opponents have been making a lot of noise about wind turbines recently, but I hope that argument does not obscure the bigger picture here, which is that energy bills keep rising, fossil fuel levels are dwindling and we need to think about how to protect Northumberland’s residents from the impact of this.

“I saw recently that about 80 per cent of people haven’t heard of the Government’s excellent Green Deal programme, which gives people loans to make their homes more energy efficient and lets them pay the money back through the savings in their bills. I would urge Northumberland residents to look into the Green Deal as a priority.”

Consultation on the draft Preferred Options will run from Wednesday to Wednesday, March 20.