Company criticised over handing of wind turbine applications near Wells

A company owned by Norfolk County Council has been criticised over its handling of applications to build 'micro scale' wind turbines on county council land near Wells.

The three applications to build a total of six turbines in Binham and neighbouring Hindringham have now been withdrawn.

The reasons, according to applicant Norfolk Energy Futures (NEF), are because of technical problems and residents' concerns.

But NEF has been urged by two parish council chairman and a county councillor to consult more thoroughly with local residents in future applications.

NEF is a stand-alone company owned by Norfolk County Council. It was launched last year with the aim of expanding and investing in renewable energy technology instillations in Norfolk, including on county council-owned land.

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The county council's planning committee would have been responsible for deciding if the proposals for Binham and Hindringham were granted planning permission if they had got to that stage.

Under planning law, Norfolk County Council is the statutory planning authority for developments on land that it owns.

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A county council spokesman said the county council's planning regulatory committee has a proven track record of handling development applications for Norfolk fairly, transparently and without prejudice.

NEF and Norfolk County Council had submitted applications to install three turbines at Abbots Farm, Walsingham Road, Binham; two turbines at Great Crow Farm, Walsingham Road, between Hindringham and Binham and one turbine at Warham Road, Binham.

All turbines were to be a maximum height of less than 15m to the hub.

Binham Parish Council chairman David Frost said: 'We were basically given just the application form and told to go to the applicant's website. The consultation was completely one-sided and we were not given the full picture.

'We had a meeting on September 17 when we were expected to make a decision. About 40 people attended, mostly over the turbines applications, and we did our best but were unable to answer most of their questions.

'We had to go back and say that we were unable to make a decision as a council and encourage residents to send their individual views.

'I would have thought over an issue such as wind turbines they would have been better prepared.

'Our county councillor Marie Strong has been excellent in talking to the county council and urging them to do more.'

He added: 'Many people in Binham were concerned over the process of the county council being able to adjudicate on their own application on their own land. I was very surprised and have not come across that before. But I have been assured they are perfectly within their rights.' Hindringham Parish Council chairman Janet Gardiner said: 'The consultation was virtually none existent as far as I'm concerned. It looked as if they were not taking the process very seriously and were just trying to push through with it.'

The public consultation ended last Wednesday but the county council had planned to give the parish councils extensions to provide feedback. NEF was due to send a representative to a Binham Parish Council meeting on Friday but the plans were withdrawn the day before.

A spokesman for NEF said: 'These are very small turbines of a type and size that are increasingly common – there is one nearby in Bale – so we did not anticipate the strength of feeling that might be generated.

'In response, we were preparing to attend a meeting on Friday and had arranged to visit another location.

'Unfortunately, technical difficulties, including connection to the grid, made the sites unsuitable and they have been withdrawn.

'Nevertheless, if the parish councils are interested in the potential of this and other forms of community-scale renewable energy, we would be pleased to talk to them about this.'

County councillor for Wells, Marie Strong, said: 'With a sensitive issue both in terms of wind turbines, and the planning process, early notice would have enabled me to be better prepared when meeting the parish councils.

'Had a pre-application consultation taken place parish councils would have been able to discuss the proposals fully and knowledgeably at their scheduled meetings.

'The fact that the proposals were pulled should not detract from the fine example the chairmen and councils displayed in carrying out their duties in what became very challenging circumstances.'

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