SIR ALAN BEITH MP: Windfarm debate blows on

Those who came along to the public session at the Fenrother windfarm appeal hearing.
Those who came along to the public session at the Fenrother windfarm appeal hearing.

The very controversial Fenrother windfarm proposal, beside the A1 north of Morpeth, has been called in for central Government to decide

For those who have campaigned so vigorously against it, many of whom I met in the early stages of the campaign, it is welcome recognition of the significance of the issue.

I do not always recommend to campaigners against a planning application that they should try to get it called in, because it is a bit of a gamble – central Government may well be more disposed to agree the application than the local planning authority.

But, given the risk that a local authority refusal might be turned down on appeal, I think they will want to welcome the involvement of the Secretary of State.

What concerns my constituents in many areas is that not enough attention is being paid either to the impact of windfarms on the Northumberland landscape or the cumulative impact that could arise if, once one application in an area has been granted, others are also approved.

I have been raising these issues in the House of Commons and received more assurances last week from energy ministers that planning authorities are entitled to take landscape and cumulative impact into account.

In at least one successful appeal, the planning inspectorate has seemed to me to be too ready to trade off particularly significant views, such as the views to and from Holy Island, against the important general policy of securing renewable energy.

That policy, necessary though I believe it to be, cannot be assumed to override all landscape considerations and that was never the intention of Parliament.

Several current applications – such as the one at Belford Burn – raise landscape issues and they need to be taken seriously, whether the decision is made by the local planning authority, by planning inspectors, or by the Secretary of State.

This is not a party political issue – there is a range of views in all the parties, as can be seen from the fact that so many prominent Conservatives, including their council leader and one of their MPs, are such strong supporters of windfarms that they have applications in Northumberland for them to be built on the land they own.

veterans petition

Fusiliers from Northumberland were among the hundreds of veterans who marched down Whitehall to Parliament last week, after I joined them and other MPs to present a petition at 10 Downing Street.

It was a stirring and moving sight, calling to mind all those who have served and the many who gave their lives in conflicts up to and including Afghanistan in our illustrious local regiment.

We debated the whole issue on Thursday and I joined more than 90 members in a protest vote in the House of Commons against the Government’s decision to disband the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

Ministers did not dare to ask colleagues to vote against us, so we won the vote, but that is not the same as winning the battle.

Our case was that the decision was wrong and sacrificed a well-recruited battalion in order to save under-recruited Scottish battalions ahead of the independence referendum; but now the whole matter should be looked at again. Why?

Because the reduction in regular Army numbers depends on a big increase in recruitment to the Army Reserve.

But TA numbers are not going up as they need to do, so, we argued, it would be much better to keep the Fusiliers’ Second Battalion at least until we could be certain that we have enough reservists to fill the gap. The fight will continue.

election anniversary

Last week, in Alnwick’s Northumberland Hall, I had the pleasure of celebrating – a few weeks ahead of time – the 40th anniversary of the by-election which took me to Parliament to represent England’s most beautiful constituency. It is also one of the largest. I was determined from the start to introduce, for the first time, surgeries at which any constituent could speak to their MP. I regularly hold them in main centres, Alnwick, Berwick and Amble, and in smaller communities including Lynemouth, Hadston, Widdrington, Ellington, Rothbury and Wooler.

Every year, I have village surgeries in over 100 villages.

My last day before returning to Parliament this month was spent holding village surgeries in communities like Alwinton, Thropton, Alnham and Hepple, as well as finding out more about the impact on villagers in Thrunton of the fire which is still burning waste carpets on the old brickworks site.

More than 30 people came to see me in that one day, with an enormously wide range of issues to raise.

Two particularly good things about the party for me were seeing so many people who had helped me over the years and handing over the job of preparing for the next election to local campaigner Julie Pörksen, who the local members have voted to be the Liberal Democrat candidate in 2015, when I retire.

But it is business as usual for me as your MP until 2015, and there is plenty I want to get done before then.

communication matter

Nowadays, there are many ways of contacting your MP, notably by email. The computer has not reduced the number of personal callers at all – it has added a new dimension, because, in addition to those who send me personal issues by email, there are several hundred people who send me frequent emails in support of campaigns on particular issues. Some are organised by a pressure group called 38 Degrees.

It provides an efficient vehicle for people to sign up in support of a range of causes and send their views to their MP.

Their first big impact was in opposition to any sale of state-owned forestry.

It did make me look back to the campaigns 50 years ago against the planting of massive state-run conifer forests in the open Northumberland landscapes of the Cheviots, Kielder and Redesdale.

If 38 Degrees and emails had been around then, they would probably have been campaigning against the very forests which they are now so keen to protect from selling or felling!