Campaigners warn Northumberland could be swamped by wind turbines

Middlemoor wind farm, just north of Alnwick.
Middlemoor wind farm, just north of Alnwick.

Vast swathes of Northumberland could be designated as suitable for wind turbine development through the county council’s new Local Plan.

However, these areas would only be a starting point and any planning applications would have to meet a number of other requirements set out in the draft policy.

The map showing the areas of Northumberland suitable for wind farm development.

The map showing the areas of Northumberland suitable for wind farm development.

Plus, there are only limited areas – most of which are already windfarms – where what are described as large turbines, those over 40 metres, would be acceptable.

Nonetheless, campaigners have criticised the council’s approach and are calling for people to share their views before the first public consultation on the draft plan ends next Wednesday (August 15).

David Biesterfield, from the Northumberland Environmental Policy Group (NEPG) of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, says that the proposals risk ‘driving a coach and horses’ through what the Government has set out in its planning guidance.

“Unless it drops this, the county council is going to invite a tidal wave of applications as soon as subsidies return and we believe that’s much more likely than you might imagine,” he added.

The map shows that most areas of the county, apart from the Northumberland Coast and North Pennines areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and along Hadrian’s Wall, are suitable for wind turbine development in principle.

The National Park is its own planning authority and therefore not included in the Local Plan.

The largest proportion is for turbines up to 25 metres, with a smaller area for turbines between 25 and 40 metres.

The plan says that this ‘will ensure that there is a positive approach to smaller-scale development that help individual residential homes and businesses meet their energy needs through decentralised, renewable energy and support smaller-scale, community-led proposals’.

The limited zones suitable for 40-metre-plus turbines include existing sites ‘as suitable areas for upgrading or repowering of wind turbines’.

In all cases, this is subject to meeting the requirements and other criteria in the policy, called REN 2.

This policy contains a number of further hurdles for a developer wishing to erect turbines, such as demonstrating that ‘planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and the proposal has their backing’.

They must be far enough from homes to prevent noise, shadow flicker and visual intrusion and it must be shown that the that the development will not harm the landscape or views to and from sensitive areas like the AONB.

But Mr Biesterfield and the Society believe that these would be undermined by the designation of suitable areas.

“In 2015, the Government made strenuous efforts to alleviate pressure on local communities like those in Northumberland in terms of wind turbine development,” he said.

“Before that, the society was successful in persuading the council that a criteria-based approach was far preferable to ‘areas of least constraint’ as they were very broad-brush and effectively created honey-pots where developers rushed to create wind turbines.

“The council, in its latest Local Plan (in policy REN 1), accepts there’s a serious conflict between identifying suitable areas for renewable energy developments and a criteria-based approach, but it then goes on to identify suitable areas, only for wind turbines.

“It suggests that 66 per cent of the county, excluding the National Park and the AONB, is suitable for wind turbines, when plainly it isn’t.

“That’s vastly more extensive than the old areas of least constraint.”

The draft plan states that the impact on Northumberland for both residents and visitors and the number of turbines which have already been built in the county has been taken into account in the policy.

It says: ‘Onshore wind turbines have been recognised as a potential significant force for change on the landscape of Northumberland and a study to understand the landscape and visual effects of the current operational windfarms in Northumberland has been undertaken.

‘The conclusions of this study identify the importance of considering the effects on long and medium-range views from and to iconic landscapes and heritage assets and the outlooks for heritage assets. This is recognised in the policy.

‘Across Northumberland, a significant amount of wind turbine development has either already taken place or been consented therefore cumulative impact is a key issue and this is a matter that will require careful consideration.’

A council spokeswoman said that the authority ‘welcomes all views’.

She added: “We would encourage people to make their views known during the draft Local Plan public consultation period which remains open until 5pm on Wednesday, August 15.

“The council will consider all responses received during the consultation period.”

Visit www.northumberland.gov.uk/localplan for more information and to have your say. You can also view copies in libraries, customer information centres and council offices.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service