Wind farm benefits ‘outweigh harm to Grade I church’
PUBLISHED: 14:35 13 January 2012
A PROPOSED wind farm of four 130.5-metre tall turbines is opposed by English Heritage and fails to respect west Huntingdonshire villages and landscape, planners told a public inquiry yesterday (Thursday).
But the national need for more renewable energy trumps any local harm, RES UK countered at the start of a three-week appeal against refusal by Huntingdonshire District Council of planning consent for the development at Woolley Hill, near Ellington.
The inspector, David Rose, said he would examine three principal issues before making his decision – the landscape and visual impact of the proposal, the impact on cultural heritage, and the balance with national energy and carbon reduction objectives.
English Heritage objected to the proposal because of the damage to views from the Grade I-listed All Saints’ Church and the wider Ellington conservation area, and wanted RES to redesign the development to reduce the harm, barrister Tina Douglass, for HDC, told the inquiry.
RES refused, and the council’s development control panel turned down the application against officer advice.
Miss Douglass said planning policy on wind farms, adopted by HDC in 2006, identified the area of countryside that includes the proposed site, Whiteleather Lodge Farm as capable of absorbing a small-scale group of up to three turbines, but not at that site.
“It fails to respect existing landmark features, being out of scale with the hill and church spire – views of both would be affected – it is on a valley crest and out of scale with the landscape and the setting of the village of Ellington,” she said.
That harm was not outweighed by need when both the Government and the industry were confident that national targets on emissions reduction could be achieved, she asserted.
“There is an urgent need for new large-scale renewable energy projects to come forward to ensure that we meet the 2020 target and wider decarbonisation ambitions. However, that does not indicate that there should be a panic reaction overriding all other issues,” she said. The need could be met from more appropriate locations.
“The wider benefits are modest and do not outweigh the harms identified.”
Peter Jennings, counsel for the Woolley Hill Action Group of concerned local residents, said a significant proportion of residents had grave objections because it was an inappropriate place for 428-feet high turbines with rotating blades that each described a circle covering an area of two acres. They would be larger than any yet erected in England, he added.
The 309 letters of objection received by the planners should be compared with 13 letters of support, only two of which had come from the area affected by the proposal, he said.
The wind farm would be more than 500 feet above the valley floor and would dominate the valley. By contrast, Ellington’s church spire was just 36m (118ft) high and the building 40m (131ft) long. Each turbine blade measured 50m in length.
But RES’s solicitor Patrick Robinson maintained that any harm was outweighed by the need to redress the national shortfall in installed renewable generation.
The capacity of the four turbines would be between eight and 12 megawatts, he told the inspector. The current legally-binding requirement was for around 14,000 megawatts of onshore wind capacity alone by 2020, against of total of 6,247MW available from on- and offshore wind turbines by the end of August last year.
Of the 647MW from onshore required in the East of England by the end of 2010, only 132MW had been built and a further 243MW had planning consent.
“There is an urgent national need for which many more sites will have to come forward than just Woolley Hill.
He urged the inspector, when considering evidence about the impact on heritage assets, to ask himself whether they were shown to be key views or vistas important to the historic significance of the asset or just available views.
As to landscape, that at Woolley Hill was typical of other sites at which wind farms had been built – gently rolling topography and an open arable landscape.
As far as the landmark functions of such as church spires went, the question was whether they would retain their landmark function.
His client’s case was that there was no “magic line” between three and four turbines, and he urged that the appeal be allowed.
Councillor Nick Guyatt, HDC’s deputy leader, who has executive responsibility for strategic planning and who is a declared advocate of renewable generation, assured the inspector that there had been no hint of prejudice against wind power when the decision had been made to refuse after an extensive debate.
He said that at a site visit, he and colleagues had looked at the potential impact from several sites in Ellington and concluded that at some the benefits of the wind farm would have outweighed the harm. But that was not the case at All Saints’ Church – “a significant monument at the centre of the community, leaving aside its value as a landmark”.
But he conceded that the panel might have taken a different view of the application if it had been for fewer turbines.
The inquiry continues at HDC’s Pathfinder House headquarters until Friday next week. It moves to Jubilee Park on Tuesday January 24. Individual local objectors are expected to give evidence on Thursday morning, January 19.
Shailesh Vara, MP for North West Cambridgeshire, the constituency in which the site lies, is expected to give evidence to the inquiry on Friday this week.