Ed Miliband’s barrister wife is representing a wind farm company in a case which campaigners say could open the way to vast turbines blighting historic sites.
Justine Thornton, who specialises in environmental law, is advising Barnwell Manor Wind Energy in its bid to build four 400ft turbines on land owned by the Duke of Gloucester.
The plan had been rejected on the grounds it would overshadow a Tudor summer house set in what a planning inspector called Britain’s finest Elizabethan garden, with ‘national if not international significance’.
But the Labour leader’s wife is helping the firm bring an appeal case against the National Trust, English Heritage and East Northamptonshire Council, which jointly secured a ruling against the wind farm at the High Court last March.
The parties argued successfully that it would blight Lyveden New Bield, the Grade I-listed lodge and garden about half a mile away.
Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: ‘The effect of the proposed turbines on one of the most important, beautiful and unspoilt Elizabethan landscapes in England would be appalling. This is why we pressed this case.’
However documents written by Miss Thornton and Gordon Nardell QC for the Court of Appeal case on January 23 claim the evidence for this was ‘less than substantial’.
Mark Bradshaw, the local National Trust manager, said if the wind farm company won the appeal, it would make life easier for turbine developers to over-ride people’s concerns about other heritage sites.
He said: ‘It will set a precedent which would be used for other applications that a 400ft object half a mile from Grade I-listed buildings is acceptable.’
The case has been fought for two years since the application was rejected by the local council, then overturned by a planning inspector who allowed it to meet green energy targets, despite admitting it would be ‘alien and incongruous’.
The National Trust and English Heritage then defeated it at the High Court. The Trust billed it as ‘an important marker in the defence of the historic environment from inappropriate development’.
The land is owned by the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, whose estate could make £120,000 a year in rental fees from the turbines. He is backing the energy firm, which says the project will provide clean electricity to more than 5,400 homes.
The Duke, who lives in an apartment in Kensington Palace, is also patron of the Northamptonshire Museums and Historic Houses Forum which includes Lyveden New Bield.
Lyveden was begun in the late 1500s by local sheriff Sir Thomas Tresham. It was left unfinished when he died in 1605. The National Trust discovered the remains of an Elizabethan pleasure garden in the grounds and restored its moats and orchards.
Peter Stephens, chairman of the campaign group Stop Barnwell Manor Wind Farm, said: ‘It is hypocritical of the Duke to serve as patron of an organisation which seeks to protect our heritage while at the same time supporting a scheme which will damage it.’
A spokesman for Miss Thornton said: ‘Like all members of her profession, Justine Thornton is subject to the “cab rank rule” which stipulates that barristers act for anyone requesting their professional services.’