Dozens of onshore wind farms face being vetoed by the Conservatives after Eric Pickles extended his powers to block unpopular proposals.
The Local Government Secretary has pledged to decide on key applications for turbines himself – taking the final say away from planning inspectors.
The disclosure came as it emerged that he is facing court action after blocking two schemes in Somerset and Leicestershire.
The interventions were part of a pledge to ensure the “genuine concerns” of local communities are taken into account.
Mr Pickles’s decision to extend his powers was welcomed by campaigners and Conservative MPs, many of whom have lobbied against the spread of onshore turbines.
Opponents of wind farms say generous consumer subsidies have encouraged developers to behave “irresponsibly” and “blight” scenic areas of the countryside with turbines in the face of local opposition.
Mr Pickles has already “recovered” 35 wind developments for his own consideration in the last six months under a trial scheme, it has emerged. Now he has announced that he will continue to make decisions on key schemes for at least another year.
However, the industry accused Mr Pickles of “subjugating” the planning process to a “whim” and “playing politics” with energy policy.
Developers are concerned his intervention could threaten investment in wind farms, saying it makes planning decisions less “predictable”.
Maf Smith, the deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, the wind industry’s trade body, said: “I expect the official planning bodies for this country will be up in arms that the planning system is being subjugated to political whim in this way.”
The move comes amid growing signs of hostility towards wind farms among ministers. Last week Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party Chairman said the Conservatives favoured offshore schemes and were opposed to Liberal Democrat plans to build turbines “everywhere”.
The two schemes blocked by Mr Pickles are four 390-ft high turbines on land in the Somerset levels and nine turbines, each between 350ft and 410ft high, in Asfordby, Leicestershire. Both had previously been refused by local councils only for those decisions to be overruled by planning inspectors.
The “Black Ditch” scheme in Somerset was planned for land which falls into a conservation area designated by Natural England, the official environmental body.
Ecotricity says it would make a “huge contribution” to renewable energy targets. But the Huntspill Wind Farm action group, which is also fighting plans for another wind farm nearby, said it would turn an “unspoilt” area into an “industrial landscape”.
Mr Pickles ruled that the “harm” it would cause to the surrounding landscape outweighed the benefits of the green energy that it would provide.
However, Ecotricity, the firm behind the scheme, accused Mr Pickles of flouting his own planning rules. It has confirmed it will seek to challenge his decision in the High Court in a case which would call into question his right to intervene over wind schemes.
The second scheme, planned for Asfordby, was opposed by Alan Duncan, the international development minister. Its developer, Peel Energy, said it was now considering “options”.
Chris Heaton Harris, the Conservative MP for Daventry, who has led a parliamentary campaign against the spread of onshore turbines, said: “I am delighted that part of the campaign that we have been pushing in Parliament seems to have borne fruit.”
[rest of article available at source]
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