The village of Orston used to be the sort of place where nothing ever happened. People liked it that way.
The most notable thing about this quiet, leafy settlement in Nottinghamshire was that the parish church had a drum from the Battle of Waterloo.
But suddenly the 450 villagers have been pitched into a battle of their own, against green energy developers.
Four industrial-scale projects including a pair of huge wind turbines are proposed for fields on the edge of Orston, just outside the village conservation area.
“This is green vandalism driven by greed,” says one local, unfolding a map in the pub, The Durham Ox.
Another says of the feeling in Orston: “This is a sleepy village that just woke up.”
The applications came at a rate of roughly one a month over the summer. The first was for a wind turbine five times higher than the tower of the local church, which would loom over the cricket pitch. It was taller than Nelson’s Column at 242ft.
The next was for another turbine of the same height, in a field just across from the first in Spa Lane. Then in August came a plan for a solar farm with more than 50,000 panels.
And last month there was an application to build a large anaerobic digester plant with gas towers, bringing thousands more tractor journeys to the country lanes.
“We are faced with four major developments within a third of a mile of each other, on the edge of a village which is protected,” says Nick Hammond, who lives here and works as a project consultant for the United Nations, among others. “That is crazy. It is way out of kilter.”
David Morris also lives in Orston. He used to work for the Government, advising utility firms how best to meet green energy targets. Now he says the system is out of control and communities like his are suffering.
“We feel like we have no say in what is being done to us,” he said. “There is no plan and no strategy about where to put these things, locally or nationally, and that is absolutely absurd.”
The people of Orston now have a week to register their objections to the anaerobic digester plant. The consultation periods for the wind turbines and the solar farm are over. But even if Rushcliffe borough council turns down these applications, the developers are more than likely to win on appeal.
The battle is being fought not just in this village but across the whole of Britain. There has been a surge in such projects in recent times as companies rush to take advantage of lucrative consumer subsidies, as the Government strives to ensure that 15 per cent of Britain’s energy needs are met from renewable sources by 2020.
Last year, wind turbine owners received help amounting to £1.2 billion. That was effectively £100,000 per job in the wind farm industry, paid for by a supplement on electricity bills. The total subsidy is expected to rise to £6 billion by 2020.
Over the last few days, energy companies have warned the Prime Minister that bills will continue to rise if they have to keep paying for green subsidies and environmental taxes.
Mr Morris, 64, the former renewable energy consultant, says: “The wind turbine situation is absolutely diabolical. Anybody with a business background can look at the economics of it and see that without the subsidies it would be an absolute no-goer.”
Outside, the leaves have not yet fallen from the horse chestnut trees and the centre of Orston looks like a film-maker’s notion of a classic English village. Next to the pub is the 12th century Church of St Mary, which has a handsome square tower and contains the historic battle drum.
The village school is close by and it has an excellent reputation. The charm of the place and the school are the reasons people come to live here.
“There is a premium for living in Orston,” says one villager, whose three-bedroom former council house is now worth £250,000. The bigger homes sell for more than half a million.
Orston is surrounded by open fields and farmland. It sits on a ridge on the edge of the Vale of Belvoir and you can see Belvoir Castle in the distance, from the field where the first turbine will be. If the plans go ahead, this view will be interrupted by a giant, whirring structure and the grass will be replaced with concrete.
“Lincolnshire is full of wind farms, there is no room for any more, so they are coming west,” says David Sims, a former company director who has a map showing the sites for 26 proposed wind farms across the Vale of Belvoir. He understands why the sudden surge in applications is happening.
“The subsidies make all this so lucrative that people are falling over themselves to get involved. You can’t blame the farmers.”
Ann Crockett-McLean, who describes herself as a mother and a personality profiler, lives close to where the projects will be built. “It feels huge. It feels really scary. You don’t know what’s coming next,” she says. “You want to fight, because the moment one of these developments gets through, the whole landscape will start to change.”
She is worried that once the first turbine has been approved the villagers will no longer be able to object on visual grounds. “The Fens have been taken over by wind turbines. That all started with one application that seemed neither here nor there.”
The first application in Orston came before the parish council in April. The man behind it was a local. David Wheeler, 55, used to work for the Ministry of Defence, monitoring nuclear submarines. He now travels the country for Hallmark Power of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, looking for places to put up wind turbines.
“A local landowner knocked on my door, having read our website,” he says. “I evaluated his site and found it had potential. It passed all our tests. It is a good site, far enough away from residences not to cause any problems, in terms of noise, shadow, flicker, as well as heritage and other issues.”
Many of his neighbours disagree. They include a scientist who has calculated that the turbine will have a visual impact on 70 per cent of the people in Orston.
Mr Wheeler says that is not true and offers a mock-up of the turbine as relatively unobtrusive. “It is 600 metres [650 yards] from the nearest house. This is what it would look like from there.”
His image is dramatically different from the one produced by his opponents, which shows the tower and blades looming behind their homes. “Looks like something out of Alien, doesn’t it?” says Mr Wheeler, dismissing their version as inaccurate. Nor does he accept that the village is unanimously against the turbine.
“There are a number of people who have approached me quietly and said, ‘I do support it but I don’t want to say so.’ The opposition can be quite intimidating.”
One villager says: “Most people are dismayed that members of our community are prepared to destroy this beautiful place for the sake of 30 pieces of silver.”
But others insist they are still friends with those on the other side, so how have Mr Wheeler’s neighbours been towards him? “Generally speaking, pretty OK.”
Even if they were not, he wouldn’t back down. “I believe in what I am doing. The UK needs energy independence. Why not here? I cover the whole country, from Scotland down to Cornwall and everybody’s got a back yard, everybody’s got a reason for not having it there.”
If the council rejects the turbine, his company will appeal. Hallmark will probably win. Isn’t that trampling over local democracy? “I think national democracy takes precedence.”
The other villagers say this is an unfair fight. Mr Hammond says the second wind turbine application, by a company based in Wolverhampton called RESense, was in the planning system for nine months before it became public.
“They had nine months to talk to all the statutory authorities and prepare. We’re then given three weeks to respond, as a bunch of amateurs in this. That is absolute balderdash. The system is totally biased against communities.”
When the application for the solar farm became known in August, the majority of locals were in favour. It will be flat on the ground, hidden behind hedges with no noise and do no damage to wildlife.
“This isn’t about being anti-renewable energy,” says Ms Crockett-McLean. “It is about building the appropriate structures in a rural area. Wind turbines are industrial. Anaerobic digester plants are industrial.”
The latter is designed to turn maize and rye grass into biogas, to be fed into the national gas grid. Those who object say it will require an extra 8,500 tractor journeys to bring the crops to the plant to ferment. Like the wind turbines and the solar farm, it is now being considered by John Cranswick, the Conservative local councillor, and his planning officers.
He is likely to follow village opinion, and approve the solar farm but object to the other projects. If the council agrees, those cases will go to the independent Planning Inspectorate on appeal. That is when village opinion will probably be ignored.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, has told the inspectors that they are not giving enough weight to the concerns of locals.
“We need to ensure that protecting the local environment is properly considered alongside the broader issues of protecting the global environment,” he said in June.
But in August The Telegraph revealed that the Inspectorate had given the go-ahead to nine of the last 14 wind turbine plans it had considered, including some in designated Areas of Outstanding Beauty, despite local objections.
So the people of Orston can only wait and see if developers will be allowed to build turbines on the edge of their village, the heart of which is a conservation area.
“It is perverse that I can’t prune a tree in my back garden without planning permission and yet somebody can build a 74 metre [242ft] tower that we can all see,” says Jeff Dickinson, 61.
“It is also perverse that we are building these monstrosities in these lovely locations, all in the name of the environment. The solution is destroying what we are trying to preserve.”
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