Conservationists today won a landmark High Court battle against plans for a giant wind farm that would have blighted one of the most important surviving Elizabethan gardens in England.
A judge ruled that a planning inspector made a “flawed” decision to give the go-ahead to plans for four 415ft turbines on farmland just a mile from Lyveden New Bield, a Grade I listed National Trust property.
English Heritage and the National Trust, who backed the legal challenge to the development, said the case had national implications.
East Northamptonshire District Council had sought to block proposals submitted by West Coast Energy to build the wind farm at Barnwell Manor, Sudborough, Northamptonshire.
The manor is owned by the Duke of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin, who was not directly involved in the High Court action.
The conservation groups had raised concerns about the impact that the wind farm would have on panoramic views in the area, in particular the setting of Lyveden New Bield, an unfinished 17th-century summer house which has one of the country’s finest surviving examples of an Elizabethan garden.
There was strong local opposition to the wind farm proposal, which initially involved five turbines, and the district council rejected it in 2010 amid fears that it would put the heritage of the area at risk.
However, Barnwell Manor Wind Energy Ltd appealed and in March last year public inquiry inspector Paul Griffiths agreed to allow the construction of four turbines with a total maximum height of 415ft.
The inspector said he recognised the case had wide implications for listed buildings and conservation areas, and the proposal would cause harm to the setting of a range of designated heritage assets.
But the harm was “less than substantial” and was outweighed by the “significant benefits” the wind farm would bring in terms of renewable energy, he found.
However, Mrs Justice Lang ruled at the High Court in London today that the decision to give the go-ahead for the wind farm was legally flawed and must be quashed, meaning that the proposal will have to be reconsidered.
She found that the planning inspector failed “properly to interpret and apply” the relevant policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites.
Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, welcomed the judgment, saying: “We brought our joint challenge because we felt the planning inspector’s decision did not strike a proper balance between the conservation of outstandingly important historic sites and wind energy.
“The effect of the proposed turbines on one of the most important, beautiful and unspoilt Elizabethan landscapes in England would be appalling. This is why we pressed this case.
“We very much welcomed the Government’s earlier concession that the decision lacked adequate reasoning and we now welcome the judgment that the inspector failed to give ‘proper effect’ to the statutory duty to have special regard for the setting of listed buildings. We very much hope that this will be the end of the matter.”
Mark Bradshaw, of the National Trust, added: “We are delighted with the outcome. We hope this brings to an end a five-year battle to preserve and protect the important setting of some of our most significant heritage assets.
“Lyveden is of international importance. The harm to heritage assets like Lyveden should be weighed against the benefits of wind farms.”
However, Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of green energy industry body RenewableUK, denied that today’s High Court judgment would have implications for other wind farm proposals.
Hs said: “It would be wrong to suggest that any kind of precedent has been set on this occasion, as each wind farm application is considered on a case by case basis.
“The fact that this application went to the High Court shows that, at times, decisions are finely balanced and difficult to reach.
“The very same High Court judge, Mrs Justice Lang, upheld applications for two wind farms in Norfolk in January – even though campaigners against renewable energy had tried to cite heritage issues in that particular case.
“So any attempt to claim that one single judgment sets an unchangeable pattern is incorrect. Any case can go either way, depending on the exact circumstances.”
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