Cautious welcome to wind farm guidance

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While campaigners in south Northants welcome a move which gives communities a greater say over wind farm proposals, they are remaining cautious.

Last week communities secretary Eric Pickles proposed new planning guidelines which reduce the dominance of national renewable energy targets over local opinions and landscapes.

Keith Jones has been fighting proposals for a wind farm near his village for the last three years as chairman of the Helmdon, Stuchbury, and Greatworth Wind Action Group (HSGWAG),

HSGWAG is preparing to back South Northants Council in a second public inquiry into proposals for five turbines at Spring Ridge Farm, just off B4525/Welsh Lane by Broadview Energy. They want to build five 125m high turbines, some of which could be less than 600m from the nearest homes.

Mr Jones said: “The statement says there is going to be more weight given to local opinion on wind farm proposals, and that is to be welcomed, particularly in our case where the community has been very firm and focused on what it wants. But at the moment it is just a statement and we will need to see the detail.”

Mr Jones said it could be a double-edged sword as the guidelines also require wind farm developers to make a greater financial contribution to communities hosting turbines.

He added: “It talks about wind projects giving five times the amount money they currently give to communities.

“The problem is we have never known what level Broadview are starting from. And also what is the community? Is it just Helmdon, Stuchbury and Greatworth? Or does it include Sulgrave and Halse, and what about the rest of south Northants?”

Residents east of Towcester are also fighting proposals by wind firm Gamesa who want to build up to eight, 126m high turbines in the Tove Valley.

A spokesman for the Tove Action Group (TAG) broadly welcomed the new guidelines but recognised the potential for controversy as communities become divided over the impact of increased developer contributions.

She added: “For communities which have got or will have wind farms in their midst such benefits are some level of compensation. But this is not the only consideration and for communities who remain fundamentally opposed on grounds of environmental and landscape impact, such sweeteners will make little or no difference.

“What the new guidance will hopefully do is put power back in the hands of local communities to decide on the location of wind farms that will affect them for years to come.”

Fight for Spring Ridge Farm - a timeline:

March 2010 - Broadview carry out pre-planning consultation with local residents.

October 2010 - They submit planning application to SNC.

July 2011 - SNC refuse planning permission.

July 2012 - Planning Inspector upholds appeal by Broadview.

November 2012 - High Court upholds appeal by SNC.

April 2013 - Second public inquiry set for October 2013

A statement from south Northants MP Andrea Leadsom:

“Yesterday the Government announced it will make changes that will give local people a much greater say over wind farms in their communities, shifting the balance of power to local communities in deciding whether to agree to onshore wind proposals.

“The law will be changed to make consultation with local communities compulsory for the more significant onshore wind projects, before planning permission is applied for. This will guarantee that local people can have their say at an earlier stage in more cases.

“Where local councils have identified areas suitable for wind farm projects they will not be obliged to give planning permission if they think the impact on the local area will be unacceptable. The new guidance will ensure that factors such as landscape, amenity and heritage can be properly considered by local authorities.

“Meeting energy goals will no longer be an excuse for the wrong developments in the wrong area.

“I am hopefully that this could signal the end for the Spring Farm Ridge wind farm development in our area. If the developer does decide to go to appeal again the new guidelines must be taken into account by the Planning Inspectorate. It is sensible to err on the side of caution but I will be investigating the implications for this proposed development.

“For other applications in our area, the guidance set out yesterday by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, makes clear that local interests outweigh national interests.

“This is not the end for onshore wind farms but this is a big step in the right direction. This gives local communities the chance to take the lead and for local views to win the day.”