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Pickles effect starting to curb plans for wind farms in Devon and Cornwall

Landscape campaigners in the Westcountry have hailed the “Pickles effect” after two appeals against council decisions to reject wind farms were dismissed this week.

In both decisions, which faced vocal opposition from locals in Devon, the planning inspector specifically refers to Communities Minister Eric Pickles’ guidance, which was released in July.

Kenneth Barton said the “harm” done to the landscape in Witheridge outweighed the benefits of the green energy.

Mr Pickles introduced the policy steer for planners in a bid to quell a growing backlash against the proliferation of renewable energy schemes, seen as electorally damaging in the Tory rural heartland.

The move was billed as a power shift towards local protest groups and came with a personal warning from the minister last month that he would be watching the decisions very closely.

An appeal by Somerset firm Murex Energy against a council decision to refuse planning permission for a 220ft (67m) turbine at Woodford Farm, Witheridge, was dismissed on Wednesday, one of the first since the Cabinet decree.

The previous day, an appeal against the refusal of a 200ft (61m) turbine on the farm owned by Murex director Steve Ellam, at Rackenford, near Tiverton, was also turned down.

Penny Mills, a spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in Torridge said the decisions sent out “a clear message” to councils not to be afraid to refuse similar schemes.

“We now hope they will stand up for local people, their homes and business and protect our landscape from any more inappropriately sited turbines,” she added.

The two determinations come just a week after it emerged Mr Pickles has called in an appeal over a huge wind farm in Somerset.

The Secretary of State has intervened in the scheme by Ecotricity for four turbines standing nearly 400ft high at Huntspill, which was subject to a planning inquiry this year. The Pickles pronouncement received a lukewarm reception in the region at the time but campaigners now believe protesters are beginning to make their voices heard.

Patrick Ellis-Jones, a member of the Stop Sydeham campaign, which successfully opposed Mr Ellam’s turbine plans at Sydeham Farm, said: “I think the tide may be turning but it has still got a long way to go. Mr Pickles did say he would be monitoring decisions for six months because he was not happy with the inspectors – he seems to be having an effect – although maybe these should have been turned down anyway.”

The region has become a focus for developers with Torridge district council last week reporting a 500% surge in planning applications for turbines since 2010.

The latest figures from the Planning Inspectorate since Mr Pickles reinforced his warning on October 10 showed that just one out of five turbine appeals in Devon and Cornwall had been upheld.

This is only a snapshot, but at 20% it represents almost half the average 34% of council refusals which are upheld by inspectors nationally.

A spokesman said inspectors “always take account of current guidance”.

“Every case is judged on its merits and on the evidence placed before the Inspector, who is required to give sound reasons for his judgement in each decision,” he added.

“Inspectors will always remain impartial when deciding an appeal. They are rigorously trained to ensure that they develop and maintain the skills necessary to undertake the work they are given.”

Bob Barfoot, a CPRE spokesman and planning expert who helps groups fight turbines, called the decisions “encouraging” but that it was “too early yet to form an opinion”.

He cites last week’s upheld appeal by another inspector for a single turbine at Rose Ash in North Devon despite being refused permission by North Devon Council and being widely opposed locally.

He added: “Nonetheless it is encouraging that the Government seems to have awoken to the fact that for many years planning inspectors have been overriding the views of the local people and their democratically elected representatives. This has made a mockery of the Government’s so-called Localism agenda.”