Britain will have to ‘embrace’ onshore wind farms if Labour wins the next election, Ed Miliband has said.
While David Cameron has called for a cap on new turbines in favour of building them offshore, Mr Miliband has defended the need for windmills in the countryside.
The Labour leader said residents ‘have the right to make their objections’ to applications in their area, but turbines must be built in places which can best generate electricity.
Mr Miliband did not disown comments he made as Energy Secretary in 2009, when he said opposing wind farms was as ‘socially unacceptable’ as not wearing a seat belt or failing to stop at a zebra crossing.
The remarks infuriated rural campaigners who warned that vast swathes of Britain’s most beautiful countryside could be blighted against the wishes of residents.
Mr Miliband told the Mail that Labour’s next manifesto would include ‘commitments’ on green energy, and suggested commissioning a map of Britain to work out where the wind was strongest.
‘I understand the reasons why people worry about wind turbines in particular places,’ he said. ‘People always have to have the right to make their objections – planning issues and so on.
‘I do think personally that we have got to embrace in general both offshore and onshore wind farms situated in the right way.’
In an interview he drew a clear dividing line with the Conservatives, who have signalled that their manifesto will contain a pledge to limit windmills onshore from 2020.
There are about 4,000 turbines on land in Britain, and another 3,000 either under construction or which have planning permission. More than 100 Tory MPs have expressed opposition due to their impact on the landscape and the subsidies they rake in for landowners, paid for on domestic energy bills.
But Mr Miliband suggested opposition to turbines onshore could be reduced if they were built in the windiest places.
‘One of the things people raise is not just, “We don’t like it here”, but “Is it going to make that much of a difference here because we don’t have enough wind?”,’ he said.
John Hayes, the former Conservative energy minister who now works in Downing Street, has spoken out about too many wind farms ‘peppering’ the country, and called for a halt to new applications.
Mr Miliband said: ‘It’s got to be done in a sensitive way, but I don’t think we should take the John Hayes position, and say no more onshore wind.
‘We will have manifesto commitments on green energy, definitely, because we think green energy is really important for the country.’
The Campaign to Protect Rural England warned that Labour risked alienating the public.
A spokesman said: ‘If you carry on trying to ram onshore wind turbines down people’s throats you are going to turn people against the bigger things we need to do to combat climate change. Ed Miliband needs to be really careful not to alienate people and to make sure he listens to their concerns.’
The position is another area of agreement between Labour and the green-minded Liberal Democrats, who also favour onshore wind. In a Coalition row earlier this month, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is reported to have angrily rebuffed an attempt by David Cameron and George Osborne to cap new wind farm applications straight away.
While Mr Cameron’s party favours putting more turbines at sea, Britain’s 1,000 offshore windmills are considerably more expensive to build and maintain, and attract higher subsidies.
…AND HOW HIS WIFE COULD CASH IN
Ed Miliband’s wife will benefit from his plans to ‘embrace’ onshore wind farms if Labour gains power.
Justine Thornton is a barrister who specialises in environmental law and has helped developers in high-profile legal battles to build turbines.
The 43-year-old junior barrister at leading London chambers Thirty Nine Essex Street is described on her online CV as ‘highly recommended for her environmental expertise’, and she has worked on many planning disputes.
Her clients have included the Department for Communities and Local Government, which she has represented in planning cases, EDF Energy, Defra, the Environment Agency, the Welsh Assembly and councils.
She recently advised Barnwell Manor Wind Energy in its unsuccessful bid to build four 400ft turbines on land owned by the Duke of Gloucester. The plan was rejected by the High Court 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’.
Miss Thornton subsequently co-authored an essay on the case, entitled ‘Turbines, heritage assets and merits: a change in the wind’. Her work as a lawyer has previously caused controversy for Mr Miliband.
Five years ago she had to be barred from working for German energy conglomerate E.On, which was bidding to build power stations in Britain when her then boyfriend was Climate Change Secretary.
Whitehall mandarins ordered the move to avoid any accusations of a potential conflict of interest.
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