West Cumbria does not have the capacity to take any more wind turbines, a landscape expert told a public inquiry in Whitehaven this week.
The increasing number of turbines had become “a very noticeable feature – their presence is widespread, wherever you go in West Cumbria you are likely to see a turbine,’’ said Derek Woolerton, a landscape architect and environment planning consultant.
Copeland and Allerdale have 90 wind turbines, plus approval for a further one at Drigg.
And Mr Woolerton said the open moorlands and ridges of Weddicar Rigg, Arlecdon, currently at the centre of a £17million windfarm controversy were rare, of importance to the county and worthy of conservation.
Lancaster-based MrWoolerton, who is currently being consulted on the London-Birmingham HS2 high speed rail link project, was giving evidence on behalf of Copeland Council at the start of a six-day hearing.
He said the proposed development would have a detrimental effect on the character landscape in the area of Weddicar Rigg, which was of a type that was scarce in Cumbria and valued by local people. He also maintained that a photo-montage of the proposed windfarm, submitted by Banks Renewables, gave a false impression of potential impact and “underestimated the magnitude of change”. The proposed scheme would, he said, contribute to a situation where a significant part of West Cumbria would become a “Landscape with Windfarms”.
Banks Renewables is appealing against the council’s refusal to grant planning approval for its proposed six-turbine development on elevated land between Moresby Parks and Frizington, to the west of Steel Brow.
Planning inspector Robert Mellor is due to hear evidence from the council, from the appellants and from local objectors to and supporters of the Weddicar plan, and will visit the site on Monday before the inquiry finishes on Tuesday.
The original plans, for a windfarm of six 115m high turbines with a 25-year life, attracted 662 letters of objection, and 124 in support. The application was twice turned down by Copeland’s planning panel, against their own officers’ recommendations.
The inspector said he would consider two main issues:
what effect the windfarm would have on the character and visual amenity of the landscape and nearby settlements, both in its own right and cumulatively with the existing windfarm at Fairfield Farm;
and whether any harm might be outweighed by any economic or environmental benefits of renewable energy production.
Mr Woolerton said that with the proximity of a large single turbine at Watch Hill and a further five turbines at nearby Fairfield Farm, Pica, the Weddicar development, if it went ahead, would create an unacceptable “windfarm landscape” in a relatively small area, and would make any similar developments “difficult to control”.
The Weddicar area provided a sense of wildness that was sensitive to change, he said. If approved, the development would bring the total to 12 turbines in the area, representing an “ever-increasing cumulative impact” and “a detrimental effect on the landscape character’’. It would affect 18 out of 25 viewpoints he had checked, between six and 10.5 kilometres away, and views from recreational routes such as the Coast to Coast walk would be compromised.
Mr Woolerton also said the landscape at Weddicar Rigg was of county importance, its type was very scarce and only 2.9 per cent of the county is of the same character (the nearest being an area north-west of Ulverston). Weddicar Ridge was of high value.
Banks Renewables says the Weddicar Rigg windfarm would have a generation capacity of up to 12MW, an important contribution to national carbon reduction commitments. The company is also offering a programme of habitat management and of local community benefit with £3.5million available to local construction companies, the creation of between 25 and 30 jobs, an apprenticeship scheme with Lakes College and a £30,000 donation each year to a community fund.
“Proposals can create significant adverse effects and still be considered acceptable,’’ said Banks’ representative Richard Glover. “If this were not the case, no windfarm proposal would ever be considered acceptable. In this case the benefits outweigh any adverse effects.”
Local objectors feel, however, that the negative visual impact should be given more importance than the government’s renewable energy policy. Several of them, including Roger Pearson of Moresby Parks, Coun Graham Sunderland, representing Arlecdon ward, Anthony King of Scilly Banks and John Vout of Arlecdon will give their views to the inspector on Friday. Supporting Banks Renewables will be Cath Richardson, outgoing principal of the Lakes College, and Colin Lees of Agrilek, a local renewables business.
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