Sea views from the South Downs National Park will be “unacceptably” spoilt by up to 175 wind turbines, after ministers approved plans to build the first wind farm off the south coast of England.
The National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority have both warned that breath-taking vistas from coastal spots such as Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters cliffs will be harmed by the sight of the Rampion wind farm on the horizon.
But Ed Davey, the energy secretary, gave the go-ahead to the development last week despite their opposition, citing the “urgent national need for such projects”.
He said there was a “compelling case” for the project because the renewable energy it would produce, enough to power approximately 450,000 homes, outweighed the “potential adverse local impacts”.
The development, by German energy giant E.On, is now on track to be the first offshore wind farm off the south coast of England under the Government’s drive to hit green energy targets, with construction due to begin as soon as next year.
The £2bn project could be finished by 2018 and would be in line to receive about £200m a year in subsidies, according to the Renewable Energy Foundation.
The turbines, which will stand up to 689 feet tall, will be most visible from the seafronts at Brighton and Worthing, from which they will be just 8-9 miles away.
Fragile chalk grassland environments will be dug up in order to lay 17 miles of onshore power cables, half of which will run through the National Park.
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) had urged Mr Davey to reject the application, saying the turbines would have “detrimental and unacceptable impact” on the Sussex Heritage Coast and National Park, while the cabling would have an “irreversible detrimental impact” to an area of chalk grassland.
Trevor Beattie, chief executive of SDNPA, said the turbines would appear as “a band on the horizon” and be visible from about a third of the downland of the National Park.
He told The Telegraph: “There will be 14km of cable going straight through the rare chalk grassland of the National Park. It is a rarer habitat than Amazon rainforest.”
The rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly is among the species that could be affected by the cabling, which will involve a 30 metre-wide corridor of disruption, with a 12m-wide trench and vehicle access alongside, leaving “a big scar on the landscape”, Mr Beattie said.
E.On has agreed to minimise the disruption and restore the landscape but “how long the scar will take to repair itself we don’t know”, Mr Beattie said.
The National Trust had also urged ministers to reject the project, raising “serious concerns” about its impact.
“We do not support proposals that would seriously damage the beauty of our coastline,” it said in a submission to the planning inspectorate.
Jane Cecil, National Trust general manager for South Downs, said it remained concerned about the “major potential impact of the proposals on Birling Gap, Seven Sisters and the Heritage Coast within the National Park”.
Michael Cloake, Conservative councillor for Worthing Pier, said there had been strong local opposition. “Being a seaside resort, the view of the sea is very important to a lot of our residents. I’ve had an awful lot more residents come to me and say they are opposed than are for it.
“I think it will be spoiling the view from what is otherwise quite a wonderful seaside town. No longer will we have a beautiful sea horizon, we will have these hulking great monoliths on the horizon.”
A spokesman for E.On said: “Concerns around the project’s visual impact… [were] one of the main concerns highlighted through the consultation. E.On worked to reduce the wind farm area by almost a quarter of the area consulted upon and to around half that originally awarded by The Crown Estate in January 2010.”
The company had also made modifications to reduce the impact of the cabling, she said