Parish councils ‘in the dark’ over windfarm bid

A MAJOR windfarm application will go before planners next week, but parish councils say they have been kept in the dark.

The bid to erect nine turbines between Widdrington and Hadston will be considered by Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee on Tuesday.

Planning officers have urged approval of the Peel Energy scheme citing the benefits of renewable energy.

But 50 letters of objection have been submitted, along with opposition from the neighbouring parish councils.

And now councillors fear they may not even be able to present their views as they have not been invited to the meeting.

Widdrington Village Parish Chairman Val Seddon said: “Our village is going to be ringed by wind turbines if this is approved, but we haven’t even been informed that this meeting is going to be happening.

“We did say that we wanted to speak at the planning meeting, but we have not been told anything about it, nor have any of our residents. It appears to be very bad service from the county council.

“It has committed to work with parish councils and to have a bottom-up approach, keeping residents informed, but it seems that it is not actually doing that.

“I’m quite shocked to hear that this application is going to the committee on Tuesday. Normally this information would have come out and we would have all contacted each other and decided how we were going to deal with it, whether we would have separate people speaking or one person to speak for all the objectors.

“Obviously we can’t do that because we haven’t even heard about the meeting.”

East Chevington Parish Chairman Scott Dickinson is also alarmed by the way the application has been handled.

He said: “We had a full feedback exercise with the residents, putting letters through doors, and 96 per cent of people who responded said they didn’t want this scheme, but it seems that everything that was submitted has been ignored.

“It has been a farcical disaster from the beginning of the application to the officer’s recommendation.

“The parish council should have been told about the meeting as a formal consultee and given the opportunity to represent the community view, but the county council has failed to notify us.

“It is just a joke. It is beyond belief that the county council can exclude one of the largest parishes, with the largest amount of feedback, from this process.”

A county council spokeswoman said letters about the meeting were sent to parish councils last Friday.

The application is for 126.5m tall turbines to the west of the A1068, along with infrastructure, access tracks and an 80m tall meteorological mast.

The turbines would be in place for 25 years.

Four letters of support have been submitted, saying turbines are aesthetically pleasing, support the change to sustainable energy and would provide economic and social benefits. Supporters also mention the benefits of community funding and renewable energy and say the scheme would support the Blue Sky Forest regeneration project, which would be built around the site.

However, objectors argue that the windfarm could jeopardise Blue Sky Forest, which it is hoped would bring around 1,000 jobs to the community through hotels, a sports academy, holiday village, ski slope, activity centres and other tourism and leisure facilities.

Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Chairman Joe Sennett said: “We are against the windfarm, absolutely and totally. If this goes ahead it will affect the Blue Sky project and that could be 1,000 jobs not happening. We feel very strongly about this.

“We are getting more turbines here than any other county and it is wrong. They are not efficient. We really don’t want them.”

Other concerns raised by objectors include the cumulative effects of windfarms, visual effect and the impact of the scheme on the landscape, residential amenity, businesses, footpaths, traffic and tourism.

However, county planners say the wider benefits of renewable energy outweigh the potential impact.

They report that there would be some impact on the local landscape and visual amenity of residents, but that the development will contribute to regional energy targets, there would be no significant adverse impact from other windfarms, and there would be no unacceptable impact from noise, shadow flicker or TV interference.

They say mitigation measures could be enforced to address ecology, ornithology and aviation concerns, and there would be no harm to cultural heritage or tourism.

A spokesman for Peel Energy said initial plans for 13 turbines were reduced to nine following public consultation, and the windfarm would provide power for more than 9,500 homes, as well as contribute up to £1.35million in community funding.

It would provide £50,000 towards the Ellington Workspace Project and fund half the cost of employing five new apprenticeships at the centre.

The scheme also has support of developers involved with Blue Sky Forest.

Charles Davies, of Active Leisure, said: “Active Leisure supports the Peel Energy plan for a windfarm. We believe it will help us deliver the resort quickly and that both projects will run in harmony, providing long-term environmental and economic benefits for Northumberland.”