A wind turbine scheme near Druridge Bay, seen by surrounding communities as a threat to the planned Blue Sky Forest leisure resort, is going ahead.
County councillors agonised over the decision on Tuesday night, fearing the creation of a ‘windfarm landscape’, but voted eight-three to allow the nine 126.5m turbines.
Coun Paul Kelly told the chamber at Morpeth: “I’m going to have to consider my future on this committee because my conscience is hammering me.”
Peel Energy portrayed the project as supporting Blue Sky Forest, which is hoped to create 1,500 jobs. But the local villages behind the idea for a former opencast coal site, are vehemently opposed and have complained about Peel using their logo.
Afterwards, Labour group leader Coun Grant Davey said: “Labour members and local people have a right to know whether the Blue Sky Forest project is still supported by the council. We believe it is the best initiative to increase job opportunities and assist the economy right across the rural coalfields.
“If energy companies are muscling in, taking advantage of local people, we need to see the council’s plans to mitigate the effects and ensure the prospect of 1,500 long-term jobs is not lost.
“The Blue Sky Project, if grown properly and not interfered with, will assist local families and the much-needed population growth that goes with success with the spin-off of a stronger retail and supply chain sector where everyone benefits.”
Coun Jeff Gobin said: “I will be voting against this application. For more than 40 years, the good people in and around that area have had to put up with opencast. Now it’s stopped and they are going to try to reap the benefit of the renovation work there now. But it’s being blighted by this.”
Coun Jean Fearon said local people had been looking forward to Blue Sky Forest and some peace in their lives and that should be the case.
Jonathan England, of Peel Energy, said it had increased the distance from local communities. “It would lay the foundations for sustainable development on the site and provide confidence for other developers.”
Local member Coun Glen Sanderson, Conservative group deputy leader, said it had been a confusing process because the scheme had changed and it was hard to glean whether or not it was part of the regeneration project.
Coun Kelly said the cut in turbine numbers went some way to allay his concerns, “but I do feel that we have reached saturation point”.
Druridge Bay was a jewel in the crown of Northumberland, but the county was close to having a ‘windfarm landscape’. He was being persuaded of something that was against his instincts.
Widdrington Villlage parish councillor John Grant, representing the objecting parishes, told the planning committee on Tuesday night that turbine sites were proliferating in south east Northumberland.
They would dominate the skyline for villagers, who did not want to see the large industrial structures every time they went out of their homes.
“Of even more concern is that this prospect will deter the major investors of the scheme and that, in these times of economic uncertainty, they will withdraw and that all that will remain is the windfarm and little else,” said Coun Grant.
But the meeting heard that Blue Sky participant Active Leisure had written backing Peel Energy’s application.
The nine turbines – reduced from 13 after an objection from Newcastle Airport – will be on reclaimed Steadsburn opencast, between Red Row and Widdrington.
Senior planning officer Joe Nugent reported: “The proposed development has been assessed against other constructed, consented and proposed windfarm developments within the area. It is considered that due to distance and the topography of the landscape around the site, the potential cumulative impact from the Bewick Drift, Lynemouth, MSD Cramlington and Blyth Harbour windfarms would not result in an unacceptable impact on the local or wider landscape.
“The Sisters windfarm would result in cumulative impacts, however the two wind farms would be viewed as a single wind farm and would not result in a significant adverse impact. On balance, the potential benefits of sustainable renewable energy are considered sufficient to outweigh the potential impacts on the local landscape, visual and other residential amenity.”
There were concerns about bird strikes because the turbines are on the flight path between local lakes on the restored site which have attracted many wintering birds, including pink-footed geese and golden plovers. RSPB and Natural England conservationists have devised layout changes they are confident will keep birds safe.
Coun Sanderson said after the meeting: “I hope in time we can get to grips with this windfarm issue, because it’s almost out of control now and we do risk a real threat of spoiling our beautiful countryside for years to come for the sake of a short-term gain by a few.”