Tory opposition to onshore wind farms will be central to beating the Liberal Democrats in the South West, its party chairman said as he signalled a manifesto promise to halt the march of turbines.
Grant Shapps, Conservative Party chairman, said while he believed land-based wind turbines “blight” the countryside and “upset everybody”, the Lib Dems “love them”.
Asked by the Western Morning News whether plans to curb their growth would feature in his party’s general election manifesto, Mr Shapps said: “The wind is moving in a clear direction here.”
His comments pave the way for a promise of a moratorium on new large-scale developments, a policy that the Conservatives believe will “differentiate” them from their junior coalition partners.
Ten of the 40 marginal seats the Conservatives aim to win in 2015 are in the South West, and all are held by the Lib Dems, making the region a key battleground.
In recent weeks, the Lib Dems have trumpeted Tory plans they have blocked, including vetoing a Conservative proposal to restrict future onshore wind farms.
In a briefing with journalists, Mr Shapps claimed Lib Dems covet wind farms “all over the South West if they can pull it off”.
The growth of the “green” technology is deeply unpopular in pockets of the rural Westcountry, with affected households complaining about the detrimental impact on the countryside and house prices.
Last month, Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for West Devon and Torridge, said rural areas felt as if they were under attack from an “alien invasion”. Many Lib Dems in the region have also expressed scepticism.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems are hoping to get an electoral bounce from the growing economy. In the briefing, Mr Shapps pointed to figures showing employment had grown by 3.8% in the last year. But they are also attempting to “differentiate” from one another.
The Lib Dems in recent weeks have claimed they stopped an amendment to the hunting ban and trumpeted “victory” in halting the roll-out of the badger cull.
At the weekend, Conservative Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles revealed a “little list of yellow ideas I’ve looked at and rejected”, including new hotel taxes and higher council tax bands.
When asked whether wind farms would be in the Conservative Party manifesto, he said: “The wind is moving in a clear direction here. The Conservatives feel wind farms have a place – and it is offshore by and large.
“Lib Dems love them, everywhere, and in as many locations as possible. Presumably all over the South West if they can pull it off. They’ll somehow think it’s environmentally-friendly to have the giant pylons all over the place. So that’s an area of real differentiation.”
He added: “I think wind power’s great. But we have the best coastline for wind because of the geography of the country of any country in the world for the prospect of wind.
“And, actually, they work better off in the sea as well because it’s windier, so they don’t have to blight the landscape and upset everybody at the same time. The direction of wind travel is clear, without wanting to pre-empt our manifesto.”
Sir Nick Harvey, Lib Dem MP for North Devon, who has long opposed the Fullabrook wind farm near Barnstaple, one of the biggest projects in the country, said: “The Tories are clearly enjoying playing pre-election games with this sort of transparent posturing. They are no more capable of stopping wind farms than anyone else – and the suggestion that the Lib Dems would carpet the South West with them is nonsense.”
The row comes as the Department of Energy and Climate Change said solar farms must not become “the new onshore wind”. In its solar strategy, it said: “We want to move the emphasis for growth away from large solar farms.”
The growth of solar farms have also caused alarm in parts of the rural Westcountry.
Taunton Deane Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne has said labelled them a “monstrous desecration” and Totnes Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has warned of the “industrialisation” of the countryside.
Decc admit that the spread of solar farms has been “much stronger than anticipated in government modelling” and that this “can have impacts on visual amenity”, and unveiled plans to instead put more solar panels on rooftops of commercial and state buildings.
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