Mixed emotions in windfarm battles

COMMUNITIES against windfarms had mixed fortunes this week as Wingates plans were thrown out, while a Fenrother test mast was approved.

About 100 campaigners from both camps filled the county council chamber in Morpeth on Tuesday, prompting Chairman of the Planning and Environment Committee Trevor Thorne to ask them not to heckle or applaud “because I don’t want our planning committee to be intimidated”.

BT was proposing three turbines for land near the tiny hamlet of Wingates, despite six that were approved last year about to be erected.

But residents persuaded committee members to reject the application at Wingates Moor Farm by five votes to three.

Council planning officers had advised approving the 121m turbines, saying the impact was not serious enough to warrant refusal.

No objections were lodged by the Environment Agency or Natural England, though the latter said the council should satisfy itself about the cumulative impact of turbines, with 13 windfarms within 18.6 miles.

And BT Head of Renewables Rob Williams told the meeting the turbines would generate enough to power all its exchanges in Northumberland.

He said the company had responded to concerns by reducing the number of turbines from four to three, moving their proposed position down Wingates Ridge and devising schemes to ease the impact on neighbours.

But Leader of Wingates Not Windfarms John Thompson reminded members that when they had approved a Wingates windfarm last year they said it would give grounds for refusing any more there.

He said the BT application had been poorly prepared and considered guidance by Planning Officer Sue Birnie misleading.

“In the officer’s report, the phrase ‘it is considered that’ appears no fewer than 63 times. On 63 occasions subjective conclusions support approval,” he said.

Mrs Birnie said details had been carefully considered, with help from an independent consultant, and she had used her own professional judgement, taking into account local people’s ideas and national planning policies.

However, Coun John Taylor said he would be voting against because the National Park Authority was objecting over fears of the impact on tranquillity and views from beauty spots such as Simonside.

Coun Jeff Gobin said river and wave power should be harnessed or turbines placed out at sea.

And local member Steven Bridgett said councillors had to protect the county and hand on a heritage of which their grandchildren could be proud.

He said: “Wind farms will not allow us to do that. Therefore, I implore this committee to refuse this application.”

The scheme attracted 34 letters of objection from 24 households, three letters from the WNW group and one objection from Northumberland Ramblers as well as from parish councils.

After the decision Mr Thompson said: “It’s taken over my life for the last three years and I wouldn’t say the end’s in sight.

“I’m going to join with other people in Northumberland and try to fight national policy now so that other people don’t have to go through this.”

Meanwhile, North Yorkshire company EnergieKontor UK’s application for a wind-speed test mast at Fenrother stirred strong feelings in the community.

Members debated whether to reject the mast on the grounds they would never approve a windfarm there, but the mast was approved by seven votes to two.

Residents’ spokesman Dr James Lunn said those gathered in the chamber represented almost a thousand years of people living around the site, and for people driving north from Morpeth on the A1, this was the first opening of an unspoilt view.

He said the area was also one of the last lowland heaths in the UK, a fragile ecosystem which could be devastated by the upheaval of industry.

Local member Glen Sanderson described it as ‘a very precious part of Northumberland’ where development would have very significant impact.

l VILLAGERS in East Chevington are being urged to give their views on Peel Energy’s bid for 13 126.5-metre-high turbines between Hadston and Widdrington.

At Monday’s parish council meeting, Chairman Scott Dickinson said it was important for residents to reply to a parish consultation form.

“If people don’t want it, they have got to make their feelings known because if we can’t demonstrate people’s views, we are fighting a losing battle. It is critical that people respond,” he said.

Peel’s application has been submitted to Northumberland County Council for planning permission.

The applicant says the turbines would stimulate the multi-million-pound Blue Sky Forest project, which includes a golf course, 300-bed hotel and associated infrastructure.

But last week, the Widdrington Regeneraton Partnership announced that it could not support the windfarm, because there were already too many turbines in the area.

The consultation forms should be returned to Hadston House, Bondicar Road, Hadston, by 5pm on Monday.