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Turbine fight comes to a head

Campaigners fighting plans for two wind turbines close to ancient woodland in a South Yorkshire village are hoping three years of action will pay off when the proposal goes before councillors next week.

Officers at Doncaster Council have recommended that the application for two 80m wind turbines at Norton, north-west of Doncaster, are approved, despite almost 150 objections.

Plans for the turbines from York-based ‘community energy’ company Origin Energy were originally submitted in 2012, but have been blighted by delays after Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport and National Air Traffic Service objected amid concerns the structures could cause problems with navigation systems.

Since then, campaigners have successfully lobbied Natural England to declare Barnsdale Wood and the neighbouring White Ley plantation, which sit close to the proposed turbine site, as ancient woodland in the hope of bolstering their argument.

While forest land carrying ‘ancient’ status is not protected by planning law, the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework says committees should give extra consideration to their impact on such historic habitats.

Campsall resident and campaigner Ron Firth, of NoNow (No to Norton Origin Wind Farm) said the turbines would adversely affect “every aspect” of the wood’s ecology.

“Ancient woodland is not just the trees, it’s the flora and fauna that has evolved over centuries,” he said. “Woodland has been on the site for a thousand years, and it’s mentioned in the Doomsday Book. It is irreplaceable.”

Among the objectors to the plans is the Woodland Trust, which said the potential destruction of ancient woodland is “unacceptable”.

Oliver Newham, of the Woodland Trust said: “While the Trust is very supportive of green energy, it should never come at the price of irreplaceable habit. White Ley Plantation near Doncaster is recognised by Natural England as an ancient woodland. It is entirely inappropriate for a wind turbine access route to be built through a part of it.

“It’s a worrying trend we’re seeing across the region with cases of potential ancient woodland loss occurring at a number of sites, including Smithy Wood, a residential development in Bradford and many under threat from HS2.”

Parish councils at Norton, Askern, Burghwallis and Kirk Smeaton also objected over concerns that the site lies in the green belt, close to a school, and would have an impact on wildlife.

Campaigners had hoped that a ruling by Communities Secretary Greg Clark in June that local communities would have the final say on onshore wind farm applications would seal their campaign, but a report to be considered by Doncaster Council’s planning committee next Tuesday said the new rules did not apply as a consultation held prior to the submitting of the plans showed the “majority of residents” in favour of the proposal.

It did note however, that the weight of response to the application it had received was unfavourable.

The report recommends passing the plans, subject to raft of conditions and the removal of objections by Robin Hood Airport.

Steve Carney, director of Origin Energy, said it had held detailed discussions with the airport in order to overcome concerns regarding interference with radar equipment and was confident that it would withdraw its objections.

The National Air Traffic Service has rescinded its objection on the basis that Origin agrees to pay for radar blanking.

Mr Carney said Origin Energy’s research had revealed “huge” local support for the plans, which would provide a “few thousand” homes with fixed price energy as well as ploughing profits into the community. Once passed, Origin hopes to use the scheme as a flagship for more ‘community energy’ projects across Yorkshire.

“We think we can make something that is useful to the community,” Mr Carney said. “There is a lot more in the pipeline but we have to get this up and running first.”