ALMOST 200 people turned out to have their say on windfarm plans – but the applicant failed to appear.
The public meeting was organised at King Edward VI School in Morpeth last week to discuss an application by Energiekontor UK for five turbines at Fenrother.
But while councillors, officers and members of the public all showed up on Thursday to ask or answer questions, raise concerns, give their views or find out more, no one from Energiekontor attended.
County councillor for the area Glen Sanderson, who called for the meeting, said: “I was really pleased that the county council agreed to my request for a public meeting and even more pleased that so many attended.
“People came to make their voices heard, which is why I wanted to have the meeting, to allow residents to have their say and express their opinions.
“The only downside to the evening was the empty chair with the name plate of the applicant and not the applicant itself.
“It is difficult to ask questions of an empty chair.
“Many of us found the applicant’s decision not to attend very regrettable, but nevertheless I was pleased that so many of the senior planners turned up and were very willing to listen to all of the points raised.
“It was standing room only and there was hardly an empty chair, except for the applicant.”
Coun Sanderson requested the meeting of Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee, which will determine the application, following huge public interest in the proposal.
Energiekontor says the 126.5m-tall turbines would power around 7,623 homes and up to £45,000 a year in community benefit funds would be given to the Greater Morpeth Development Trust from the scheme.
It has said around 350 letters of support have been gathered.
However, about 700 individual letters of objection have also been lodged and a survey by Tritlington and West Chevington Parish Council found that 83.7 per cent of respondents were against the windfarm plans, with only 8.1 per cent in support.
At the public meeting last week many spoke against the plans, raising concerns about the quality of data supplied by the applicant, including the accuracy of photo montages and a landscape scoping study, a lack of consultation, the impact on property values, aviation and public health, and the close proximity to Longhorsley Moor, as well as a road safety risk from drivers on the nearby A697 being distracted by the turbines.
Residents also questioned why the council had no policy on the separation distances between turbines and homes and it was said that Northumberland has more than its fair share of onshore windfarms.
Coun Sanderson said: “The feeling I have had for some time is there are very few residents who are in favour of this scheme. The vast majority, and I have had hundreds of emails about this, continue to express great disappointment and concern not only at the growing flood of windfarm applications in the county, but also at this one in particular.”
He added: “It is quite unusual to have a public meeting about a windfarm application, but the strength of feeling was such that people came out in their hundreds to have their say and to express their great disappointment with this application and the current planning policy that appears to people to allow developers to have almost free range over our beautiful countryside.
“We need to stop this and we need to be much firmer.
“I would like to think that the people in charge of making planning policy are listening. I think a lot of very important points were raised by residents at the meeting.
“Overall, we had over two hours of very important discussion.”
Dr James Lunn, who leads the Fight Fenrother and Longhorsley Windfarm Group, said: “It was a fantastic meeting.
“About 200 people turned up and apart from one person who spoke very much in favour of wind energy, the vast majority of people there were very much against the application.
“It was a very well-organised meeting and it was really good to see the head of the council’s planning department there, along with lots of members of the council, officers, the planning committee chairman and lots of councillors who sit on the committee.
“It really was a productive meeting and was very much appreciated.
“The main point of interest was the absence of the applicant. At the end of the table was an empty chair with the applicant’s name on it. That summed it up.
“I think a lot of people were surprised. It starts to make you think maybe the applicant feels it can’t defend its own application. If the applicant believes the application has everything needed and is a good solid application why not turn up and give us the answers to the questions?”
No one from Energiekontor UK was available for comment.