A community energy group is considering its next move after appeal court judges rejected its scheme for an 87m-high wind turbine beside the Severn Estuary.
Forest planners had given permission for the turbine at Severndale Farm in Tidenham before it was overturned by the High Court last year, after around 100 local people pledged £15,000 to a Crowd Justice campaign to fight the plan.
Now the Court of Appeal has confirmed that the Forest council’s ruling, which took into account that it would be a money spinner for community groups and projects, was “unlawful”, leaving taxpayers with a £62,500 bill after court costs were awarded against it.
Opponents of the Woolaston-based Resilience Centre’s plan, led by Tidenham resident Peter Wright, launched their bid to stop the 500KW scheme in 2015, claiming it was “creating a wind farm by stealth” beside the Severn following the siting of two other turbines in St Briavels and Alvington.
Turning down the appeal, the three judges said the Forest of Dean Council should have decided the application purely on planning grounds and ignored any financial benefits for the community. The council admitted that financial considerations had played a part in its ruling.
Resilience Centre director Sue Clarke said: “The Resilient Energy Severndale team is obviously disappointed, as are the many local supporters of this community wind energy project.
“We are particularly frustrated at the wording of the judgment which includes a number of erroneous assumptions. We are currently considering all available options with advice from our legal team.”
A spokesperson for the Forest council said: “We are disappointed with the Court of Appeal judgment, which quashes our planning committee’s decision to grant permission for the wind turbine. The application will now be returned to us for re-determination.”
In its application, the Resilience Centre had said donations to the community from the turbine’s profits could total up to £1.1m and would be administered through a Community Benefit Society.
But quashing the planning permission last year, High Court judge Mr Justice Dove ruled that financial benefits for a community by a developer were irrelevant to planning issues.
Peter Wright said after last year’s judgement: “We’re absolutely delighted. The fact our community came together and took this to the highest courts show how the local community doesn’t want this thing.”
Mrs Clarke said at the time: “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 fact that the planning approval decision had already survived scrutiny by the Secretary of State (prompted by the same small group) makes the current judgement even more difficult to understand.”
Janine Michael of the Dean Community Energy Group said: “The ruling by the High Court marks a sad day for renewable energy and local resilience in the Forest of Dean.
“The case brought by a small minority of objectors used a technicality in planning law to argue our council should not have been able to recognise the local benefits of the scheme.
“This decision not only impacts us in the Forest of Dean but has far-reaching implications for community energy projects and community enterprise schemes across the country.”
In November, the Alvington Turbine Community Resilience Fund handed over £8,000 in its first round of funding to local groups and projects.
It donated £2,750 to Woolaston Primary School for new audio-visual resources, £4,750 towards the replacement of equipment at the Aylburton Playing Field to prevent it closing, and £500 for repairs to the Alvington Church clock, and will repeat the process every six months for the next 25 years.
The turbine at Great Dunkilns Farm in St Briavels has donated more than £55,000 to 15 community causes since its launch in 2013, including £5,000 to the St Briavels Zero Waste Village Initiative for a rocket digester, £3,000 to The Friends of Lydney Hospital towards a new X-ray machine and £3,060 to the St Briavels Playgroup for new furniture and equipment.
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