March 24, 2015

Anxiety over wind farm appeal as ‘Inspector Blight’ appears

Western Morning News | March 23, 2015 |

Anti-turbine campaigners fear the intervention of a senior official dubbed “Inspector Blight” for his tendency to approve rural wind farms could swing a planning appeal in the developers’ favour.

Mid Devon District Council has twice turned down plans for the 111ft (34m) mast, near Chawleigh, in Devon, and English Heritage have voiced serious concerns about its effect.

But locals believe the arrival of Inspector Paul Griffiths – who once held the record for passing more than 90%, of turbine appeals – could tip the balance.

A local action group turned out in force as Mr Griffiths conducted a site visit at the proposed location of the 50-kilowatt (kW) turbine, at Philham Farm.

The Planning Inspectorate has vigorously denied any bias, insisting the statistic is a result of the random allocation of cases and pointing out that over the past year Mr Griffiths’ performance has moved closer to the norm.

A member of the local landscape group said opponents of the renewable energy scheme were “quite upset” at the inspector’s appointment.

“He is the only one with a reputation that follows him,” added the man, who did not wish to be named.

“The council refused it twice and it went to appeal last year but it all seems to be for nothing;The character and heritage of the landscape is at risk due to the fact they have chosen this chap.”

Two applications were refused by the planning commitee, in 2012 and 2013.

Councillors voted to refuse on the grounds it would harm the landscape character and the visual amenity of the area.

English Heritage, which judged the turbine would “potentially affect the setting of several designated heritage assets”, and the council’s own conservation officer both raised objections to the scheme.

There are said to be historic buildings dating back to the time of William the Conqueror and a survey of the area has identified 36 listed buildings and two scheduled ancient monuments within 2.5km of the application site.

Applicant and fourth generation organic dairy farmer Adam Westaway says his energy bills had trebled since 2001 and insists the wind energy is needed for early morning a time of day “when solar panels don’t work effectively”.

An appeal was lodged last year and Mr Griffiths took a first-hand look at the landscape on Monday.

The planner shot to fame among campaigners in December 2013 when research showed he approved turbine developments in 19 of the 22 cases he had heard since May 2009 – an 86% rate as opposed to the national total of 56%.

Campaigners say since 2006 his approval rate for small turbines is 90% compared to the average, which is 36%.

The Planning Inspectorate said out of 27 turbine cases in the past year Mr Griffiths had allowed 17 and dismissed 10.

“We cannot judge everything by statistics,” spokesman Peter Rickets added. “Inspectors judge cases on their merits, based on facts and evidence.”

URL to article: