Wind farms are “industrialising” the countryside, a Westcountry MP has warned as he raised fears tough new rules to prevent the technology’s expansion are failing.
Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, has concerns that new planning guidance to give local opponents more power has done little to slow the number of wind farm applications.
He has launched a “probe” into the success or otherwise of ministers telling planning authorities local people’s concerns should take precedence over the need for “green” energy.
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has already pledged to review more wind farm applications to ensure the guidance, issued in July, is working.
It comes amid David Cameron pledging to “roll back” green levies that add 9% to energy bills and, in part, fund unprofitable wind farms, as bills become one of the top political issues.
Controversial wind farms have divided opinion in the region, including proposals for turbines at Fullabrook, near Ilfracombe, in North Devon, England’s biggest wind farm, and in Davidstow in North Cornwall, which has infuriated locals.
More than 4,000 turbines are in operation across the country.
Mr Cox said: “These turbines dominate the countryside for miles around permanently altering and industrialising its appearance.
“Local communities have felt powerless to say no to these developments and although it was hoped that the new guidance would go some way to addressing this, it appears that this has not been sufficiently the case.
“I am therefore asking the Secretary of State to look into this matter again, to clarify the impact the existing guidance has had, and to make the necessary amendments to this guidance in order to allow our unique landscape to be protected and to give communities a greater say over the decision making.”
As well as giving local communities a “veto”, the new-look Planning Practice Guidance for Renewable and Low Carbon Energy gives more weight to the impact of turbines on the landscape and heritage.
The MP has tabled a series written Parliamentary questions on the number of wind turbine application appeals sent to the Planing Inspectorate watchdog, and the number of refusals overturned by the Inspectorate citing the guidance.
He has also asked the Secretary of State to review the existing guidance on the cumulative landscape and visual impacts of turbines.
Earlier this month, Mr Pickles made clear his fears that the Planning Inspectorate is not enforcing the new guidelines. He wrote to MPs saying he will give “particular scrutiny” to applications involving renewables, to ensure new guidance is being followed correctly.
The Secretary of State will exercise his power to determine the outcome of appeals against renewable energy applications over the next six months to make sure guidance is being properly followed.
The guidance was part of a package of measures that also significantly increase the amount of money communities will receive for agreeing to host wind farms nearby.
Meanwhile, David Cameron’s aides said green taxes on household energy bills will fall next year despite Liberal Democrat objections.
The Prime Minister, under pressure from Labour and Sir John Major, told the Commons: “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges.”