Plans by two councils to turn large swathes of Devon countryside into the country’s first unconstrained wind power zone have sparked fury among landscape campaigners.
North Devon and Torridge councils have proposed earmarking the entire two local authority areas – including the Lundy Island – as a designated zone for wind farms, thereby making it far easier for developers to obtain planning permission.
A consultation on changes to the Local Plan was launched this week as the first of nine 300ft turbines was erected at Batsworthy Cross in an 18MW scheme by power firm RWE.
A map of the area (pictures) has also been published showing exactly where turbines of varying sizes can be built, capping the height of masts at 75 metres (246 feet).
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has long said there are too many schemes in the area though Conservative changes to policy last year had made gaining official approval near impossible.
This new designation would clear a major obstacle and potentially open the door to more schemes, although scaled-back incentives make onshore wind less attractive than in recent years.
Renewable energy experts say the policy is a long way from being a free-for-all for wind farms and in fact requires that any scheme be “community led” if it is to stand any chance of going ahead.
The authorities say they are simply responding to the Written Ministerial Statement from Amber Rudd last year.
The CPRE says councils need only “consider” designating an area for renewable and low carbon energy sources, a view supported by a planning minister in a recent letter to Devon MP Geoffrey Cox, who is also against the designation.
Penny Mills, spokeswoman for the CPRE in Devon, said the proposal is “completely unacceptable, against Government Policy and the wishes of local people”.
“CPRE Devon is shocked and baffled that our local councils are choosing to be seemingly the only councils in the country to designate the whole area as suitable for even more wind energy development.,” she added.
“It seems that unelected bureaucrats at Torridge and North Devon have ignored all local opinion, representation from local bodies as well as Government Policy.
“The area is already saturated with wind turbines. We neither want nor need any more.”
A consultation in December outlined four options – all, most, large and isolated areas – and received 37 responses.
One person or organisation supported the first option, 12 backed the second, six for the third while 18 supported option four; some 42 respondents suggested a fifth option whereby no area would be chosen.
Planning Minister Greg Clarke confirmed that the new policy “does not require local planning authorities to identify suitable areas”.
He said: “Future wind turbines should only get the go-ahead when local people have said they want them, and where.”
The councils launched a second consultation on Wednesday, recommending option one, explaining that “aspects of the plan are no longer in conformity with national policy and guidance”.
They added: “As such, it is considered that there is a risk that the plan, in its current form, would not be found ‘sound’ when it is subject to examination by an independent planning inspector acting on behalf of the Secretary of State.
“In response, the councils seek to consult on a series of amendments to the plan, prior to its submission for examination, in order to mitigate this risk and ensure that it aligns with up-to-date national planning policy and practice.”
Merlin Hyman, chief executive of industry body Regen South West, said: “Under the proposed new approach to wind turbines in North Devon only community-led projects will allowed.
“Communities that want to benefit from using their excellent local wind power to generate clean green energy will be able to do so under the proposals.
“Given that renewable energy remains far more popular than other forms of energy generation we hope many communities will see the benefits that wind power could bring them.”
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