One of Britain’s most historic cities is being threatened by a circle of 40 wind farms under plans drawn-up by its Labour-led authority.
The sites have been identified in the council’s draft local plan, a document that sets out development for the next 15 years.
The council says the locations – most of which are in areas of green countryside – are only potential sites and that any wind turbines would be subject to a planning application.
But opponents fear that including the locations in the local plan will make it easier for developers and land owners to win approval.
Under reforms introduced by the Government last year, any applications that are in line with an area’s local plan can be given approval automatically.
The plan is only a draft, but the move has attracted criticism from residents who are concerned about the impact any future wind farms would have on the landscape, as well as on the views to and from the historic York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe.
There are also concerns that many of the sites will be surrounded by areas of land that are to be designated as a Green Belt area in the plan.
Joe Watt, a Conservative city councillor, said: “The fear is that if it is on the plans and is accepted by the government inspector, then that is seen as a green light for a developer to come and put a wind turbine up.”
All local authorities must have a local plan, which sets out its planning strategy, including houses and infrastructure.
York is part way through an eight-week consultation on its draft plan, which will end on July 31.
The council will then consider representations made during the consultation period before publishing a final local plan in early 2014.
It will then be examined by the planning inspector who could approve, recommend changes or turn down the plan. If approved it could be adopted by 2015.
The 40 potential wind farm sites highlighted in York’s plan were identified during a 2010 renewable energy viability study, commissioned by the council.
It looked at wind speed data and environmental constraints before selecting sites which would be most suitable. The council then included them on a map as part of its local plan, which also includes a proposal to build 1,090 new houses every year to 2030.
Currently, 197 authorities out of a total of 336 have adopted local plans, however York is understood to be one of the first to have included potential wind turbine sites.
Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for York Outer, who is opposing the plan, said: “York is a cathedral city surrounded by beautiful open countryside and there is a real feel among the communities on the edge of the city and within the city itself that these 40 potential wind farm sites will impact hugely on the character and setting on this great historic city.
“It is right and proper that the council looks at renewable energy but my view is that onshore wind sites are completely wrong in this location, I would argue that they are unjustified in a lot of locations in the country.”
Earlier this month, Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, announced plans to give local communities power to block wind farms.
Under the proposals, residents have to be consulted over new turbines, with applications barred if there is significant opposition. However energy firms would be able to offer incentives – such as discounts on electricity bills – to persuade communities to agree to new wind farms.
Paul Miner, the senior planning campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “This case could be seen as an early test of whether the Government’s new policies on wind energy planning will be followed up on the ground.”
Martin Grainger, head of integrated Strategy at City of York Council, said: “A draft plan recognises that renewable sources of energy can make a valuable contribution to tackling the rate of climate change and will be encouraged.
“The proposals map attached to the 300-page document identifies potential areas of search for renewable electricity generation which includes commercial wind and hydro. It is based on technical work that takes account of natural resources and constraints.
“It is made clear in the document that proposals would only be allowed if it could be demonstrated that there will be no significant adverse impacts on landscape character, setting, views, heritage assets and green belt objectives and demonstrate benefits for local communities.”
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