An “appalling” plan for wind turbines in a famous Elizabethan landscape has been scuppered, setting an “important marker in the defence of the historic environment”.
English Heritage and the National Trust, who backed the High Court action to over-rule a planning inspector, said the case has national implications.
And campaigners in the West Country added their voices of support, saying they were delighted by the outcome.
East Northamptonshire District Council launched the bid to block plans by West Coast Energy for four 430ft (145m) turbines on farmland at Barnwell Manor in Sudborough.
Its owner, the Duke of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin, is not directly involved in the challenge.
Mrs Justice Lang ruled that the decision to give the go-ahead was legally flawed and must be quashed.
The judge ruled there had been a failure by a public inquiry inspector “properly to interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites, which meant that the balancing exercise was flawed”.
It is being regarded as an important victory by conservationists concerned by the impact of development on views, and in particular the setting of Lyveden New Bield, a 17th-century lodge and one of the country’s finest examples of an Elizabethan garden.
It was feared the protection of other important historic sites around the country could be undermined if the turbines were allowed.
National Trust representative Mark Bradshaw said later: “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.”
Action groups in the West echoed his sentiments last night. Richard Loveless, of No Huntspill Windfarm, which is fighting a plan for four turbines on the Somerset Levels said: “Members of No Huntspill Windfarm are delighted. We hope our local committees will be respected.”
Sedgemoor District Council turned down proposals by EDF Energy for five 400 ft turbines in the area, and by Ecotricity for four turbines. Ecotricity has appealed and a local planning inquiry began hearing evidence last month. The hearing, at The Princess theatre in Burnham-on-Sea had to be adjourned after just a day but reconvenes in May.
Another group, NoPilrow, is opposing a proposed windfarm at Pilrow near Rooksbridge, also on the Levels and not far from the M5. It has yet to go before Sedgemoor planners.
The dispute in Northamptonshire began in 2010, when the district council rejected the plans, then involving five generators.
But Barnwell Manor Wind Energy appealed and in March last year, public inquiry inspector Paul Griffiths allowed four turbines.
Each turbine was to have a hub height of 85m (278ft) and a rotor diameter of approximately 93m (305ft).
The inspector said he recognised the case had wide implications for listed buildings and conservation areas but the harm was “less than substantial” and was outweighed by the “significant benefits” of the wind farm.
The judge found that, as well as failing properly to conduct a balancing exercise required by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 with regard to preserving heritage sites, the planning inspector had also failed properly to apply relevant planning policies.
He had also failed to give adequate reasons for his decision, said the judge.
The inspector “did not at any stage in the balancing exercise accord ‘special weight’, or considerable importance to ‘the desirability of preserving the setting’ when assessing the level of harm that would be caused by the wind farm.
The judge added: “He treated the ‘harm’ to the setting and the wider benefit of the wind farm proposal as if those two factors were of equal importance.”
In fact the inspector had “downplayed the desirability of preserving the setting”.
The judge refused permission to appeal, but they can still ask the Court of Appeal direct to hear the case.
In a statement, the National Trust expressed its “delight” with the High Court ruling.
Helen Ghosh, the trust’s director-general, said: “Lyveden is a remarkable building with a very particular spirit.
“We are delighted that our visitors’ experience of its beautiful setting is now one step closer to being safeguarded.
“Clearly every legal case is different, but this sets an important marker in the defence of the historic environment from inappropriate development.”
The trust describes Lyveden New Bield as one of England’s oldest garden landscapes and features an unfinished Tudor garden lodge, “steeped in Catholic symbolism”.
Work on Lyveden stopped suddenly in 1605 when its creator, Sir Thomas Tresham, an ancestor of Wiltshire’s Earl of Cardigan, died and his son became embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot. The Elizabethan moats, mounts and terracing have been restored and the orchard re-planted with period varieties.
Following the judgment, RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive, Maf Smith, 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.
“So any attempt to claim that one single judgment sets an unchangeable pattern is incorrect.”
Mr Smith added: “The fact that the National Trust has installed wind turbines at five properties shows that it recognises the increasingly important role that wind energy is playing.
“Just a couple of weeks ago, Dame Helen Ghosh reiterated her support for renewables and described wind turbines as beautiful and graceful.
“Anyone who’s serious about protecting the British countryside from a damaging over-reliance on fossil fuels will want to support wind energy, as an example of practical action on climate change.”
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