High Court rules out SLP Energy’s plans for wind turbines near Great Yarmouth
A judge's decision to rule out plans for a windfarm on the edge of the Broads has been hailed as a victory for people power by jubilant villagers.
However, a spokesman for SLP Energy, which put forward the scheme for four turbines on farmland close to Hemsby and Ormesby, near Great Yarmouth, warned that the High Court ruling had significant implications for any future onshore plans as it showed the government's renewable energy targets had no teeth when it came to local planning matters,
Ruling against SLP's appeal, Mrs Justice Lang said the planning inspector had been entitled to her view that, in this case, government targets were outweighed by the 'material harm' the development would cause to the 'character and appearance' of a sensitive area.
Her ruling emphasised that the Government's encouragement of renewable energy sources did not have 'primacy' over local conservation policies.
She came to her decision despite the fact that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had withdrawn its objection at an earlier stage after being reassured that the turbines would not endanger local populations of pink-footed geese and marsh harriers.
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Charles Reynolds, the borough councillor for Ormesby, who chaired the council's development control committee when it refused the original application, said: 'I could not be more delighted by this outcome. The windfarm would have been a dreadful blot on the landscape between Hemsby and Ormesby.
'I chaired a public meeting concerning the issue which was attended by nearly 200 people with no one speaking in favour of it. It was one of the biggest responses I have known in my 33 years as a councillor in Ormesby.
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'I have a feeling, certainly in sensitive areas, that we won't be seeing any more applications for onshore wind developments.'
The planned 105-metre high turbines have been at the centre of controversy for three years with villagers organising a highly organised and determined campaign to oppose them.
The judge rejected SLP's arguments that the planning inspector who refused consent for the wind farm in November 2010 had ignored the Government's target that 17pc of the region's energy needs should be met from renewable sources by 2020.
The company's plea that the inspector 'applied the wrong test' when assessing landscape harm was also rejected as 'unarguable' by the judge.
She told the court: 'I do not accept that the inspector ought to have disregarded the local landscape policies in the light of the national policies.
'As a matter of law it is not correct to assert that the national policy promoting the use of renewable resources negates the local landscape policies or must be given 'primacy' over them.
'This is simply a case of policies pulling in different directions: harm to landscape and the benefits of renewable energy.
The inspector was required to have regard to both sets of policies and to undertake a balancing exercise.'
With the Broads directly to the west and north of the proposed wind farm, and the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just 3km away, the inspector was entitled to find the balance came down in favour of local conservation, the judge said.
In its planning application, SLP argued the turbines, along with supporting infrastructure, would supply power to more than 5,000 homes.
But, rejecting the scheme, the inspector had said: 'The development would result in material harm to the character and appearance of the area because of its scale and location and the cumulative impacts of other similar developments.'
SLP's barrister Richard Wald earlier told the court: 'The East of England has failed to meet its renewable energy targets for 2010 and is unlikely to meet those for 2020.
'The proposal would contribute 10MW to existing capacity and would assist the region with meeting its 2010 and 2020 targets.'
Following the verdict, SLP spokesman Peter Fish said: 'Naturally this is very disappointing news for SLP Energy but much more so for UK renewables generally since it clearly demonstrates government inspired renewable energy targets have no teeth when it comes to local planning matters.
'What's more, if government targets for onshore wind cannot be implemented with any degree of confidence under the present onshore planning system, can one reasonably put any faith in government aspirations for offshore wind which is not only so much more expensive to implement but also involves favourable planning decisions by local councils with respect to the onshore work.'
Wind energy engineer and consultant Andy Hilton, who lives in nearby Catfield and managed the construction of nearby Scroby Sands offshore windfarm, echoed the concerns of Mr Fish.
He said: 'My company has spent the last six years trying to develop very good sites in East Anglia. To date we have one consented at Eye airfield and two refusals at Stalham/Ingham and Wyverstone in Suffolk.
'Our refusals were on grounds such as 'interfering with views between two churches', 'irreparable damage to the highway' and 'slaughtering geese', for which we had a full no objection from the RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology.'
He highlighted the huge cost of onshore wind schemes for developers which took years to recoup.
'It is sad that many windfarm companies have decided to call it a day in East Anglia and move their business to areas of the country that accept there is a necessity for renewable energy,' he said.