Storm blows up over windfarm proposals

The Straker family live at Plantation Farm next to the proposed site and helped man the Middleton Burn Action Group stand. L-R is Linda, Verity and Martin.
The Straker family live at Plantation Farm next to the proposed site and helped man the Middleton Burn Action Group stand. L-R is Linda, Verity and Martin.

PLANS for a 16-turbine windfarm in north Northumberland are already facing stiff opposition, following a public consultation last week.

Air Farmers Ltd, the company behind the Middleton Burn Ltd project, which would see the 125-metre turbines erected on land at Swinhoe Farm north west of Belford, hosted an exhibition in the village’s Bell View Resource Centre last Thursday.

But the many residents who attended were also met with a rival display from Middleton Burn Action Group, set up to oppose the scheme, which lies close to the National Trust-owned land surrounding St Cuthbert’s Cave, Holburn Moss and Lake and St Cuthbert’s Way.

Martin Straker, whose land at Plantation Farm neighbours the proposed site, said: “We are concerned about the visual impact, the impact on the environment and the contradiction between putting it there and the county council’s view of the area of outstanding natural beauty on the coast. Swinhoe is said to be the gateway to that area.

“The council has to look at every windfarm on its own merits but when you look at the area and what’s actually within the area, it’s going to have environmental and visual effects.

“It’s windy but you need to take everything in context with it. You’ve got to look at the whole picture, not just that it’s windy.”

Mr Straker also described Middleton Burn Ltd’s proposed fund for community benefit of £48,000 a year for the 25-year life of the windfarm as a ‘bribe basically’.

“We have had a very good response. I would say the majority are against the proposal,” he said.

“I think people are giving it a fair look. We are saying ‘go upstairs and then come down and vote’. I think we are being very fair in what we are doing.”

Jens Rasmussen, director of Air Farmers Ltd and Middleton Burn Ltd, said that community benefit was a ‘key part’ of the scheme.

He also said the consultation was important so that they could find out what people want.

“The consultation is about hearing what they have to say,” he said.

“We are here to listen to everybody and to be as factual as possible.

“We are here to engage and talk and go through the process, and we are very happy to hear feedback from anyone – positive and negative.”

He also said there could be another similar event in the future once the company has looked at the feedback from last Thursday.

Belford resident Victor Goodall had an issue with the community fund and suggestions for what could be done with it, which included examples from other parts of the country such as a sculpture trail.

“All these things they are offering, the villagers haven’t been consulted,” he said.

“And the money they are offering, it should be far more. It should be at least £100,000.”

Wife Dorothy said: “I’m in favour of using natural resources but I’m not sure this is the right spot. It’s an area where you get a lot of walkers.”

Roy Dodds said that the issue was looking at alternatives.

“I think there is going to be a visual impact on the area which is not pleasing very many people.

“On the other hand, if we say no to windfarms and we want to have electricity supplied by renewable energy, we need to have a view about what form of renewable energy we go for.”

The exhibition also drew people from further afield as the height of the turbines means that there could be a visual imapct at a distance of up to 35 kilometres, according to the company’s zone of theoretical visibility map.

Ron Shaw, from Berwick, said: “Basically I’m the man that invented St Cuthbert’s Way so I’m completely devastated that they would place those monstrosities in that location.

“Walkers come from Melrose nearly 50 miles and then past St Cuthbert’s Cave and see Holy Island for the first time and know they are nearly there. Instead they are going to see huge wind turbines.”

Erica Bamford, also from Berwick, said: “I’m very concerned about the effect on St Cuthbert’s Way, St Oswald’s Way and the Northumberland coastal path.

“It will be very damaging visually from a huge area, I think you’ll see it from the Cheviots and certainly from Holy Island. It’s totally the wrong place for a windfarm.”

She also criticised the information given at the exhibition, describing it as ‘very weak’.

“There’s a lot of stuff about benefits for Belford but we haven’t seen many for other windfarms,” she added.

l Clarification: The artist’s impression on the front page of the Gazette last week was from St Cuthbert’s Way rather than St Cuthbert’s Cave.