Wind turbine revolt

‘ENOUGH is enough’ was the message as councillors, backed by vocal opposition, overwhelmingly threw out controversial wind turbine plans this week.

A scheme for a 255ft wind turbine on the Harehope estate at New Bewick, close to the National Park, as well as a similar turbine near Ponteland on land owned by Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council’s Tory group, were rejected by the county’s planning and environment committee members on Tuesday night, against planners’ advice.

Dozens of campaigners, who had packed into the council chamber in Morpeth, applauded the decisions on the widely-criticised plans that, in the case of the New Bewick turbine, had attracted 96 letters of objection.

The planning officer’s report had concluded: “On balance, the potential benefits of sustainable renewable energy from a local source are considered sufficient to outweigh the impacts on the character of the landscape, and visual and residential amenity.”

And agent Richard Garland, for the applicant, said it was part of the estate’s drive to embrace their environmental and social responsibilities.

“Contrary to the views of the vocal minority, the majority of the people in the locality are actually very relaxed about the proposal,” he added.

But moving refusal, Coun John Taylor said that in 24 years as a councillor he had never had so many communications on one issue. He felt it was as divisive as the foxhunting debate.

“It’s right across the board, right across the political persuasions. It’s a feeling that enough is enough,” he said. “We have got to start and draw the line on this.

“It’s an industrial development in a very, very rural landscape. The benefits that are produced are seriously outweighed by the negatives.”

Coun Paul Kelly questioned the siting of the turbine, saying the ‘scales came down very firmly on the side of dis-benefits’.

“If you are going to build a turbine of this size, you want it to work and putting it in a place where there’s almost no wind is pointless,” he said.

“The landscape of Northumberland is precious and we have sacrificed a considerable amount of it already by our own judgments and by appeal judgments.

“We need to preserve as much of it as possible for future generations. Let’s not sit here as nodding donkeys, agreeing to other every application simply because it agrees with government policy.”

Coun Dougie Watkin highlighted the harm that would be caused to the vista from Ros Castle – one of the best 360-degree viewpoints in the country – describing the ‘industrial, not agricultural’ turbine as a ‘travesty’. “It would demean the entire county,” he said.

Local member Anthony Murray said such a structure would affect the area’s tourism appeal, which would damage not just the tourism industry but have a knock-on effect on a number of service industries.

Anthony Meikle, of Save Northumberland’s Environment (Sane), said: “It will certainly be the biggest and most industrial feature in what is essentially a very rural landscape. It really will be the proverbial blot on the landscape.”

He also questioned the applicant’s claims that this turbine in a ‘natural valley amphitheatre’ would produce 37 per cent of its 500kw capacity, saying this is far above the North East average of 22 per cent.

Coun Wayne Daley suggested the committee should examine claimed outputs in such applications, but was told by development manager Karen Ledger that they could not be considered. The guidance said a small development could still make a valuable contribution.

He argued that this was ‘opening the floodgates’ as the county would have to keep approving turbines in an effort to hit its government targets, particularly if outputs fell short of applicants’ estimates.

During the discussion of the Ponteland plans, Coun Daley also questioned whether the committee should be taking any decision at all on wind turbines while a bill which would ensure that turbines had to be more than 1,500m from homes was going through Parliament.

But he was told that there was nothing in current legislation and so was not a material consideration.

The nearest residential properties to the New Bewick site are 750m away.