Protestors blown away by decision

FIERCELY-FOUGHT plans for a five-turbine windfarm at Fenrother have been unanimously rejected by councillors.

Energiekontor UK had applied for the 126.5m-high turbines for a field to the north of the hamlet near Longhorsley.

But in a packed meeting at County Hall on Tuesday, opponents gave a round of applause as the bid was thrown out by Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee.

Members backed recommendations from officers that the scheme should be refused on grounds of significant and unacceptable impact on the character of the local landscape, greenbelt extension, Northumberland National Park and residential amenity, as well as insufficient information on noise and archaeological matters, the potential effect on the safe operation of Newcastle Airport and a Ministry of Defence radar, and the cumulative impact of turbines in the area.

The application attracted the largest number of representations of any scheme ever put before the committee, with 1,647 letters of objection submitted and 784 in support.

In addition the Fight Fenrother and Longhorsley Windfarm Group, made up of local residents, submitted a 71,000-word dossier setting out its opposition and spent £6,000 compiling expert reports, such as a residential amenity study, accident data for the A697 road beside the site and analysis of renewable energy projects.

Chairman Dr James Lunn said: “We’re relieved and ecstatic. We expected to be successful in seeing this application turned down, but I don’t think we were expecting a unanimous vote against the proposal with very little debate. I think the councillors were quite clear.

“The sheer volume and quality of work that the community has done and put before the council has made it an awful lot easier and the councillors have obviously listened to us, which restores a lot of faith in the whole system.

“This has taken almost two years out of our lives and I don’t think the applicant realises how much turmoil it has made.

“It has created a huge divide in several communities, but for all the friendships and relationships we have lost, we have made more friends and better relationships and the community is stronger for it.

“It is bizarre to think that all the work we have put in has not been for anything other than to be in the position we were in two years ago, before these plans came up. We have been fighting to have what we used to have.”

The committee hearing followed a councillors’ site visit to the area and a public meeting in November when around 200 people turned out to voice their opposition to the plans.

Objections were also lodged by Longhorsley Parish Council, Tritlington and West Chevington Parish Council, the council’s Public Protection department, the county archaeologist, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Ministry of Defence, Morpeth Civic Society, Newcastle International Airport, the National Grid, Northumberland Badger Group and Northumberland National Park Authority.

Concerns focused on the principle of development, potential for precedent, impact on the open landscape character, visual impact, effect on public rights of way, noise, highway safety, ecology, cumulative impact and the effect on badger conservation, while National Grid complained of the proximity of a turbine to a high-pressure gas pipeline.

Planning officer Joe Nugent reported that there were inaccuracies in some of the information provided by Energiekontor, with properties missed out of assessments of the site.

However, the applicant submitted further information to refute the claims and Project Manager Sam Dewar urged the committee to take it into account.

“There is a lot of inaccuracies within the report, one is that this is greenbelt land. It is not allocated greenbelt,” he said.

“I’m not going to get into a big debate here. The recommendation is clear, but I want you to carefully consider the reasons for refusal. I truly believe that they shouldn’t be there.”

Supporters had also argued that the windfarm could be accommodated in the landscape, the proposal accorded with planning policies and there would be environmental benefits of renewable energy.

However, Mr Nugent concluded that the benefits would not outweigh the harm done by the scheme.

As well as the six reasons given by officers for refusal, objectors called for a further one on grounds of road safety, saying drivers on the A697 would be distracted by the turbines, but highways officers said it would not be an issue.

Councillors decided not to include the extra reason, but praised the community for the quality of its arguments.

Committee Chairman Trevor Thorne said: “I feel that the opposition group in this particular instance has turned this application upside down and been very thorough.”

Coun Paul Kelly said: “There are a lot of members of the public here tonight and on previous occasions we have had similar numbers of people coming along to object to a recommendation or application, but it isn’t the weight of objections that count, it is the quality.

“The quality of the arguments presented by the Fenrother action group has been significant. It has been persuasive.

“My own view is that the six recommendations are sound and the one I think we have been crying out for for a considerable time is the cumulative impact in Northumberland.

“If the turbines are in danger of joining up, and they look as though they could, we are approaching a swathe of wind developments across Northumberland.

“This is the first time that officers have recommended refusal on the basis of cumulative impact and it has been very welcome.”

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Ward councillor Glen Sanderson, who organised the public meeting about the plans, also spoke in objection.

After the meeting he said: “I genuinely do feel that the tide is turning and opinions are changing nationally. I think that all the work that has been done over the last two years to get attitudes changed on onshore windfarms is beginning to bear fruit and we are toughening up.

“I’m exceptionally pleased about that because residents want us to be tougher. At the planning committee I think the voice of reason came through.

“I’m grateful that the council agreed to my request for a public meeting about this application. To me that was almost the turning point because so many people came along and had a chance to say what they really felt, which is the first time that has happened for a windfarm application and I think it is the first time that a windfarm application has been recommended for refusal by the county council.”