The ‘blight’ of giant windfarms spreading across Britain is the ‘most widespread and persistent threat’ to our countryside, the National Trust has warned.
Chairman Sir Simon Jenkins yesterday singled out the proliferation of wind turbines as he highlighted concerns about the Government’s planning reforms, which he said would cause ‘warfare’ in local communities if not delayed.
His comment come just weeks after its new director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, described wind turbines as ‘beautiful’, but agreed that land near historic buildings or sensitive landscapes was not the right place for the giant windmills.
Speaking yesterday Sir Simon spoke of how the trust was fighting wind farm applications on an increasingly frequent basis.
He said: ‘There’s clearly a major battle taking place almost everywhere on wind farms. Wind turbines are very intrusive forms of renewable energy.
‘National Trust policy is perfectly clear. We’re not against renewable energy or wind turbines in the right place, we do oppose wind turbines that blight the landscape.
‘We’re sceptical over wind in the wrong place. At the moment there are threats of wind turbines the breadth of the country,’ he said.
‘In almost every region of Britain there are proposals on wind farms which local people are fighting brilliantly. The National Trust has to be conversant with this battle.’
Asked if the National Trust would consider buying areas of outstanding beauty to prevent them from the giant windmills, Sir Simon said it would not be possible due to the scale of applications.
‘We are always in the market for property. But to be honest, the threat is so widespread, you can’t even think about it. If you started buying land in Dumfries and Galloway to protect it, you would buy the whole of Dumfries and Galloway,’ he said.
But the National Trust would consider buying easements – a right over the land – to prevent the building of wind farms in sensitive landscapes.
Sir Simon warned that planning reforms intended to stimulate the economy ‘will produce not more housing, but more conflict’.
The charity is calling for a delay in the introduction of the rules set to come into force later this month, in order to prevent local communities becoming entrenched in costly battles with building and wind farm developers.
It said councils need more time to adopt local plans which specify where building can take place, to prevent the ‘risk of unwanted speculative development’.
So far, only half of local authorities have created plans for their area, according to research carried out by the Trust. Campaigners fear those without their own guidelines will be forced to follow national rules that favour indiscriminate construction.
Following what was a ‘difficult year’ for the trust, Sir Simon warned of an unprecedented number of threats to Britain’s countryside, including the spread of wind farms, as well as the proposed route of the HS2 high-speed rail line and the prospect of shale gas exploration.
Asked about the growing number of planning disputes, he said: ‘I can’t remember anything like it….we can spend our entire time in court. This I because Britain is not being planned. If you do not have plans, you have battles.’
A year ago, councils were given until the end of this month to adopt local plans spelling out where development can take place in their area, or be subject to national guidelines which state a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
But just over half will miss the deadline, making it much easier for developers to build on unprotected parts of the countryside, Sir Simon warned.
He said the Trust was ‘not against development – we’re against inappropriate development’, and said local plans would ensure building happened in the right places.
The charity is ‘pleading’ with the Government to extend the deadline for another year, otherwise ‘it will just mean everyone will spend their time fighting, fighting, fighting – and that will not be the best way to plan Britain.’
The Government’s current approach to planning would produce less development, Sir Simon said.
‘These are difficult times and the Government is desperate to find means of growth, and thinks somehow allowing development to rip will give them growth. We disagree,’ he said.
‘It will produce not more housing, but more conflict. You start trying to build houses where people don’t want them, anyone who knows anything about local Britain knows it will be a warfare area.’