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Council criticised as turbines go ahead

PUBLISHED: 09:18 27 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:06 22 October 2010

A scale drawing of the size of the wind turbines compared to Shipdham Church.

A scale drawing of the size of the wind turbines compared to Shipdham Church.

A five-year wrangle over plans for two giant wind turbines in Norfolk ended yesterday with the go-ahead being given and taxpayers facing a huge legal bill due to “unreasonable behaviour” by a council.

A five-year wrangle over plans for two giant wind turbines in Norfolk ended yesterday with the go-ahead being given and taxpayers facing a huge legal bill due to “unreasonable behaviour” by a council.

Breckland Council was told by a government inspector to pay costs - which could total £100,000 - to energy firm Ecotricity, which won a public inquiry and will now be allowed to construct the 100m tall turbines on land at Shipdham, near Dereham.

It is the first time in the UK that a council has had to pick up the tab in a windfarm dispute.

The decision to allow an appeal by Ecotricity and give planning permission came after a second public inquiry.

The turbines will be built next year as all objections have now been dismissed - including concerns by local people about the noise the blades will make.

The inspector, Chris Gossop, gave the go-ahead after it came to light on the first day of the inquiry, held in March, that safety concerns by Norwich International Airport (NIA) over how the turbines would affect radar equipment had been dropped.

But the NIA's case, which had been Breckland Council's only objection, had already been dismissed by a previous inspector in 2003.

Mr Gossop's report criticised the council for:

upholding NIA's case despite it already being earlier rejected;

failing to explore ways of resolving NIA's concerns with the airport.

In his conclusions, Mr Glossop said Breckland had “acted unreasonably resulting in unnecessary expense.”

But he only made a partial order for costs as Ecotricity “could have done more” to have avoided the need for an inquiry.

The inspector has asked the council and the company to reach an agreement over the level of costs to be paid.

Spokesman for the council Melanie Baker said: “With the issues that the NIA had raised in terms of safety, the committee felt they couldn't grant the permission.”

But managing director of Ecotricity Dale Vince, who called the council's planning decisions “a scandalous waste of public money,” said: “They used the airport as a pretext to turn the permission down.”

“After the first public inquiry we were told that if we put in more noise data it would be an open and shut case but we waited nine months, and Breckland Council turned planning permission down with no reason,” he said.

Mr Vince added: “It was only in the last few weeks before the appeal, and they knew they had to turn up and give evidence, that we were able to conclude the deal with the airport.”

The original public inquiry was held in 2003 when the plans were rejected on the basis that more information was needed about the noise the blades would make.

Research was done by noise experts on behalf of Ecotricity that showed the turbines would not create a disturbance greater than accepted limits. The findings were presented to the council in 2004, but permission was rejected on the basis of airport safety - a concern already dealt with.

Geoff Hinchliffe, a long-time villager and member of Challenge Against Nimbyism in Shipdham (CANIS), who received over 300 letters in support of the turbines, welcomed the result of the appeal.

“I just hope that those people who have been against it will now accept the inevitable.”

But Brian Kidd, also a long-term villager and member of the Campaign Against Turbines in Shipdham and Scarning (CATSS), said: “We are disappointed after all these years. We will have to study the decision to see if some further action will be appropriate.”


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