Heritage sites of “historical, architectural, cultural and religious” significance are under threat from wind farms, English Heritage and National Trust have warned on the first day of a landmark legal case.
The country’s leading conservation bodies have teamed up with East Northamptonshire District Council to fight plans for a wind farm near the Elizabethan ruin of Lyveden New Bield.
West Coast Energy wants to build four 300ft turbines at Barnwell Manor, owned by the Queen’s cousin The Duke of Gloucester – although he is not a party to the case.
The Planning Inspectorate gave the go ahead for the wind farm in April last year, arguing that any harm done by the wind farm was outweighed by the benefits of green energy.
However Morag Ellis QC, representing the council, argued that the inspector’s decision was legally flawed and he had underestimated the harm that would be caused.
Ms Ellis told Mrs Justice Lang the way the inspector had worded his decision was “genuinely mysterious and wholly inadequate”.
The inspectorate had concluded the presence of the turbines “would not erode a reasonable observer’s understanding or appreciation of the significance of the designated heritage assets – and they would therefore have no harmful impact on their settings”.
Ms Ellis said: “That is an extraordinary conclusion. There are a great many top-dollar heritage assets involved here.
“This decision turns government policy on conservation on its head.”
The National Trust and English Heritage fear that if one wind farm is allowed to go ahead on the basis that the benefits of green energy outweigh the importance of heritage, then other sites will also be in danger.
Already conservationists are fighting a number of other wind farms near heritage sites around the UK, including Brent Knoll, the Jurassic Coast and Spurn Point.
Mark Bradshaw, of the National Trust, feared if they lose the case it will pave the way for councils or planning inspectors to ignore Britain’s history when considering wind farm applications
“This case is about protecting special places of the highest designation from inappropriate development. It doesn’t come much higher than this.
“It concerns balancing the preservation of our heritage – historical, architectural, cultural and religious – against the need for renewables.”
The court case is due to end on Thursday but judgement could take up to ten days to conclude.
The case comes as Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, insisted he would not allow wind farms to be built that “irritate” people.
“I don’t want to have onshore wind in places that irritate people … We have looked at how communities can benefit from hosting onshore wind. I hope this can persuade people that this is not so unacceptable as people might think. If you show communities that there is something in it for them, their acceptance levels increase dramatically,” he told Prospect magazine.
Mr Davey also responded to suggestions that communities have been bribed into accepting wind turbines in their areas and that incentives offered to wind energy companies have a distorting market effect.
“Wind developers don’t get any money or subsidies if they do not generate. If they are as bad as some people say, they will go bust,” he said. “It’s almost as if people think these people are getting rich with wind turbines that are not going around. Not true.”