A judge has warned councillors that planning permission is not for sale after residents raised £35,000 to fight a community wind turbine in the courts.
In a decision that could have national implications for crowd-funded alternative energy projects, Mr Justice Ian Dove said the Forest of Dean District council was wrong to grant planning permission for the 87 metre turbine at Severndale Farm, Tidenham.
And he has said FODDC must pay the protester’s costs of quashing the decision, which could amount to around £35,000.
The turbine divided the village with some saying the cash benefits of around £500,000 from a share of profits would come in useful and others saying it would ruin the landscape and be dangerous because it is next to the busy A48.
When a majority of councillors on the committee overturned the advice of officers who said the Woolaston-based Resilience Centre should not be allowed to put a turbine on the land owned by local farmer Lyndon Edwards, those against the plans raised enough money for a judicial review.
Their barrister told the High Court that it was irrelevant that some of the profits would be ploughed back into the community.
And in upholding their challenge, the judge said it was a fundamental rule that planning permissions are never “for sale” and that it was unlawful to focus too much on community benefits which were dependent on winning planning approval.
Resident Peter Wright, who led the fight against the turbine, said he was delighted. “This is an historic victory for the true local community in Stroat and Tidenham,” he said.
“The local community have been united in their determination to block this third single wind turbine being put up in the Severn Estuary by the same developers and we are pleased that the High Court has fully recognised the merits of our Claim and quashed the council’s decision as being unlawful.
“We shall continue to fight to protect the local landscape and our local community in the event of any further planning applications coming forward.”
Sue Clarke director of the Resilience Centre, which has been behind two turbines in the Forest and two in Stroud, is considering appealing against the judge’s decision. She said: “This ruling, which quashes the planning permission for Severndale, is disappointing on many levels and is yet another blow for the UK community energy sector.
“Unless permission is given to appeal and the decision is subsequently overturned, the project cannot now proceed and residents of Tidenham and the broader Forest of Dean will be deprived of a wide variety of socio-economic benefits which include a community resilience fund of around £500k.”
She also claimed that it could also cost the Dean £1,5 million towards green initiatives and added: “The decision may be celebrated by the small minority who opposed the approved project but in reality we consider this to be a massive loss for the community as a whole and clearly undermines local democracy.”
The Forest of Dean District council’s planning committee overuled officer’s advice with 10 votes in favour to three against and one abstention
.A spokesperson for the Forest of Dean District Council said: “The Council is disappointed with the judgment and will now take time to consider its position.”
Before the case green energy suppliers had voiced concerns that a win for Mr Wright could make it more difficult for them to get crowd-funded turbines off the ground in future.
But Mr Wright said it would stop them “creating a wind farm landscape by stealth” in sensitive areas such as the Severn estuary.”If successful, this challenge will ensure that no other council can act with such impunity in the face of the overwhelming views of the local community and in breach of planning guidelines regarding alleged community benefits,” he said at the time.
But Ms Clarke, insisted the judgement took no notice of changes to planning guidelines on the desirability of community led projects and letting local people decide on wind turbines.
She said funds from the St Briavels turbine had been used for projects such as the expansion of St Briavels Playgroup, a roving village handyman and a Christmas meal for OAPs.
“We are sad that the outcome has not been the one we all hoped for, and which the community sector needs,” she said.”We believe there is a strong case to appeal the decision and are currently considering our options,” she added.
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