Green campaigners and big business went head-to-head over how many more wind farms should be built in the region today (Thursday, October 16).
Durham County Council says it supports renewable energy, but the county has taken a lot of new turbines over the last decade.
Its 15-year masterplan the County Durham Plan (CDP) would allow new wind farms to be refused if they would cause unacceptable harm to local people or communities.
Campaigners want the wording tightened up, but developers are lobbying hard for it to be eased.
At the CDP examination in public today (Thursday, October 16), Richard Cowen, for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said wind farms were incredibly controversial, with widespread concern throughout the country, and huge questions remained about their effectiveness.
He said the council’s overall approach was very legitimate, but called for a bigger buffer zone between turbines and roads.
However, Stewart Provan, for Banks Developments, questioned the “stand off” area, suggesting it was unjustified and could be reduced.
Caroline Peacock, for Teesdale Action Partnership, raised concerns over the removal of lower Teesdale’s high landscape value status and intrusive development, such as large-scale wind farms.
“Teesdale’s economic future is so dependent on tourism. If anything damages the visual appeal of the area, it’s liable to have an economic effect on an area that’s already not prosperous,” she said.
The council says its policy follows the advice of the National Planning Policy Framework to maximise renewable and low carbon energy development, while ensuring adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily.
A spokesman said he could understand Mrs Peacock’s anxiety, but the CDP’s character-based approach was strengthening landscape protection.
There are still opportunities for new turbine sites but they are small and fragmented, he added.
The council has produced a map which appears to show only very small areas of the county currently without turbines as being without major constraints for new large turbines.
The hearing also focussed on air pollution, a growing problem in Durham City which earlier this year led the council to announce a £2.5m scheme to install “smart” traffic lights to cut rush-hour congestion and fumes.
The inquiry at Durham County Cricket Club is expected to last until Thursday, November 13.