A bid to build a five-turbine windfarm in the Northumberland countryside has been rejected at the top of Government — but the applicants have warned it may not be the end of the plan.
Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has thrown out an appeal by Energiekontor UK to erect the 126.5m turbines at the hamlet of Fenrother, near Longhorsley.
The proposal attracted the largest number of representations of any planning application ever seen in Northumberland, with 1,647 letters of objection submitted and 784 in support.
Chairman of the Fight Fenrother and Longhorsley Windfarm Group Dr James Lunn said villagers had a party to celebrate the news.
“The decision is a validation for the hundreds of people who have fought for three years against this inappropriate proposal,” he said.
“The residents didn’t want it, the council didn’t want it, the councillors didn’t want it, the planning officer didn’t want it and now the planning inspectorate has agreed and said it doesn’t want it. The icing on the cake is that the Secretary of State, representing the Government, has said loud and clear ‘we don’t want it’.
“A windfarm in Fenrother never was and will never be appropriate or acceptable.
“I feel sorry for the farmers who over the last three years have no doubt endured difficult times, having been persuaded by Energiekontor that the scheme was appropriate and not harmful. I hope they can now see that the community’s arguments have been shown to be right and agree to move forward as a unified hamlet once again and put the last three years behind us all.”
He added: “As a young family we worry about all these plans for Morpeth that it is not changing for the better.
“The planning inspector and the Secretary of State have confirmed what the local people were saying to the council – we want to preserve our Green Belt.”
Mr Pickles followed Planning Inspector Phillip Ware’s recommendation to dismiss the appeal on grounds of inappropriate development in the Green Belt and causing significant harm to the character of Fenrother and amenity of residents.
He said the turbines would harm the openness of the Green Belt and encroach into the countryside, and that while significant weight was given in favour of the scheme due to the renewable energy and environmental benefits, it did not automatically override the concerns of the community.
The decision report states: “Overall, the benefits of the proposal do not clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and the harm to residents’ visual amenity. Very special circumstances to justify the inappropriate development do not therefore exist.”
Northumberland County Council, which had rejected the application, was pleased with the outcome of the appeal.
A county council spokeswoman said: “The council welcomes the Secretary of State’s decision on this appeal, which endorses the council’s decision to refuse planning permission for the windfarm development.
“The council is encouraged by the weight that the Secretary of State has given to the need to protect the visual amenity of Northumberland residents when determining proposals for renewable energy and welcomes the conclusions of the Secretary of State on the overall policy approach to renewable energy development in the Green Belt.”
County councillor for the area Alan Sambrook also hailed the verdict.
“The action group has done really well to get the Government on board as the Government’s policy is to try to get as much green energy installed as possible, whether for a good reason or a bad one,” he said.
“This time, the inspector and Mr Pickles have come out in support of the local community. I hope this isn’t just because of the election next year.”
He also questioned the effectiveness of windfarms and the level of subsidies paid.
“The only people making money out of this are the power companies and everybody else is having to put up with the impact,” he said.
“There is a community payment, but the community is still not getting enough proportional return for what the companies are getting in profit year on year.”
Energiekontor is scrutinising the decision to see if there are grounds to challenge it in the High Court, or submit an amended application.
Project Manager Sam Dewar said: “We are disappointed, but not overly surprised by the decision due to the political situation that we are in. Mr Pickles has been turning down every windfarm going at the moment.
“It is a shame because we have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on this project, but there are a few things we are looking at in the decision to see if we can challenge it.
“Following that decision we may or may not decide to re-submit the planning application in a different form. It is early days, but this may not be the end.”
• Plans for a five-turbine windfarm at Park Head Farm in Netherwitton were due to be discussed by Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee on Tuesday, but they were taken off the agenda following the Fenrother decision.
A council spokeswoman said: “Following the recent decision by the Secretary of State on the Fenrother windfarm planning appeal, the council and the applicant for Netherwitton have agreed that it is necessary to examine the decision as it has implications in respect of the consideration of the current application.
“Following this, the application will be reported to a future meeting of the planning committee.”