An agreed expansion of the Scout Moor wind farm remains in limbo, after government bosses confirmed they could still overturn the decision.
Rossendale council’s development control committee voted in favour to approve the plans to expand the wind farm from 26 to 42 turbines, back in September, despite fierce opposition from campaigners.
But the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has issued a ‘holding direction’ to allow more time to consider whether to ‘call in’ the decision for government review rather than letting the local authority decide.
Rossendale MP Jake Berry and Bury North MP David Nuttall have both hosted petitions against the Scout Moor expansion containing in excess of 1,300 signatures.
Joint venture developers Peel Energy and United Utilities have admitted they are frustrated by delays and claimed that there has been “political interference” in local decision making.
Meanwhile, a report by Rossendale council suggests that if the decision is overturned it could lead to a “catastrophic” six-figure funding gap for the council.
Jon England, who is development director for Peel Energy and of the scheme, told the Free Press that the DCLG asked Rossendale council not to issue a final ‘decision notice’ on the application to allow it to consider whether the Secretary of State will call in the application.
He said: “The DCLG has issued a holding direction to the council and that remains in place. We still await to hear whether the decision will be handed back or whether the Secretary of State will call it in.
“There aren’t timeframes associated with it. In recent years politics have changed and it’s become the norm for government. It’s quite clear there’s been political interference in the planning system, particularly with onshore wind.
“It’s very frustrating and we are waiting – just as the council are. This is a project that actually had a very low level of objection. If the government are to leave decision making in local hands then it would strike me that this is the perfect candidate to allow Rossendale council to make the decision.”
In a financial monitoring report presented to Rossendale council’s cabinet, an update was issued suggesting ways the council could close its forecast funding gap in four years’ time.
One of the suggestions was securing the income from wind farms, which is forecast at £690,000 annually.
The report stated: “The intervention of the Secretary of State puts this anticipated revenue stream at risk. The impact for the council given the values at stake would be catastrophic as defined in the council’s risk strategy.”
In a report to council last December, council officer Adrian Smith explained how ‘fundamental’ the scheme was to Rossendale.
He said: “Under the new arrangement for local government financing, 100 per cent of business rates raised from renewable energy schemes are retained by the local billing authority.
“This income stream will be fundamental to achieving the council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy and the goal of eliminating its future forecast annual budget deficit.”
A spokesman for Rossendale council said: “A holding direction is simply a power the government has via the relevant planning legislation to instruct the council to not issue a decision on the planning application it has considered until the Secretary of State has decided whether he wishes to call in the application.
“Call in means the application is dealt via a public inquiry before a Planning Inspector who will make a recommendation which the Secretary of State will then consider before making a final decision.
“The consequences of not having this income stream is therefore to increase our annual budget deficit by £600,000 per annum.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman confirmed: “We are currently considering whether to call in this case, having received requests to intervene.
“A decision will be issued in due course.”
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