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Wind-farm verdict that will help decide the future of countryside

It is a case that has divided rural opinion, and this week the decision over the Barnwell Manor wind farm will reach its climax at the High Court. At stake is more than just a corner of the Northamptonshire countryside.

Last year planning permission was granted to build four turbines and a substation north of Catshead Woods in Sudborough. Criticism has rained heavily over the plans that have been described by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) as “damage to biodiversity”.

Barnwell Manor Wind Energy Ltd initially applied for permission to build five wind turbines after the Duke of Gloucester, who owns the land, agreed it could be used for development. But those requests were refused by East Northamptonshire District Council in January 2011. That decision was then appealed and permission was granted in March 2012 for four wind turbines.

The National Trust said that the wind farm would have a negative impact on nearby historical sites such as Lyveden New Bield, a 17th-century lodge with one of the only remaining examples of an Elizabethan garden.

In December last year, an appeal to the High Court against the proposals ended on the second day after the judge, Sir Nicholas Underhill, stated that he was a member of both the National Trust and English Heritage.

The landowners have pointed out that wind turbines not only help to reduce carbon emissions but also benefit the local community while helping to maintain expensive, luxury estates.CPRE’s Northamptonshire branch said that the “environmental contribution of this project [is] substantially outweighed by the local impacts”.

The website of West Coast Energy, the company in line to build the wind farm states that “Barnwell Manor Wind Farm [. . .] is expected to generate enough clean electricity to power over 4,300 homes”.

According to the CPRE, over 50 planning applications for turbines in Northamptonshire were in progress at the end of last year, which is just over half for the entire country. It is estimated that by 2020 the UK will have more than 10,000 wind turbines. If Thursday’s appeal is not successful, opponents fear the outcome will have wider implications.

Roger Helmer, MEP for East Midlands, said: “It’s bad enough that local residents’ concerns are ignored but when they are prepared to ignore a major heritage site like this and just carry on regardless – words fail me.”