Mixed reaction in Norfolk to onshore wind rules

A wind turbine. Picture: STOP PRESS via iwitness24

A wind turbine. Picture: STOP PRESS via iwitness24 - Credit: citizenside.com

Onshore windfarms have divided communities and pitted local authorities against planning inspectors for years. Now the government is changing the rules to give more sway to local opposition. Political editor Annabelle Dickson reports.

Some see windfarms as a vital part of our energy future and a pleasing addition to the skyline; others want the death knell to be sounded for the onshore structures.

Such differing opinions have resulted in our region – like many across the country – becoming the stage for long-running planning battles as campaign groups fight against the windmills.

But now tough new rules will help residents thwart construction – a move some warn could spell the end for onshore wind turbines.

New guidance is expected to tell councils that local people's concerns should take precedence over the need for renewable energy, and give more weight to the impact of turbines on the landscape and heritage.

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But the changes will also include greater rewards, with the amount of money communities will receive for agreeing to host windfarms nearby significantly increased and householders set to get hundreds of pounds off energy bills.

The changes come after months of vocal Tory opposition to the planning rules around the structures. More than 100 Conservative MPs wrote to prime minister David Cameron last year demanding cuts to support for onshore windfarms and easier ways to block them through planning objections.

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Insiders rejected suggestions that the latest move undermined the prime minister's promise to lead the 'greenest government ever', claiming there was continued investment in other forms of renewable energy and onshore wind was so tied up in protests and legal challenges it had not produced significant amounts of power.

South Norfolk Conservative MP Richard Bacon said yesterday's 'very timely announcement' would delight many local communities who were fed up of having their wishes ignored by wind energy firms.

'Two onshore windfarms have already been seen off by my constituents but, rather than listening to local residents and looking elsewhere, the wind energy firm TCI Renewables has simply re-applied for planning permission.'

He said that, under the proposals, it would no longer be possible to treat local views with such 'blatant contempt'.

'Wind energy firms must now stop seeking to undermine and override residents' valid objections to their plans,' he added. 'No means no, end of story.'

Great Yarmouth Conservative MP Brandon Lewis, who is a minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government which is behind the changes, said: 'Local people and their councils should not feel bullied into accepting proposals they do not want. The new rules make clear the concerns of communities must be heard and give back to people willing to have windfarms in their local area, saving some families up to £400 a year on their energy bills.'

Jonathan Powell, chairman of the campaign group Creakes Action for Protecting the Environment (CAPE) who has fought plans for six 125m-tall turbines in Stanhoe, known as the Jack's Lane windfarm, and five 100m turbines in Bagthorpe, known as the Chiplow windfarm, said the changes were 'a year too late' for this campaign.

Windfarm operators E.On Climate Change Renewables and RES UK and Ireland Ltd were refused planning permission by West Norfolk Council in 2011, but the planning inspector granted permission following a public inquiry.

Mr Powell said: 'Unanimous rejection by King's Lynn Borough Council says it all. This is one of those policies that is deeply flawed and it is the people in this great nation of ours who know it doesn't work in getting energy bills down.'

David Ramsbotham, a UKIP county councillor who has opposed the Bodham wind turbine in North Norfolk, said yesterday's announcement was a 'step in the right direction', but said the government's wind turbine policy was 'flawed'.

He added: 'The fact they are giving money to local people is not going to solve the problem. They are not viable. They should never have happened.'

But Callum Ringer, a parish councillor who lives in Bodham, has been a supporter of the plans and said that anything that hampered the development of onshore wind turbines was a bad thing.

He said that while it was good to listen to the community, in the majority of cases the problems the campaigners claimed were going to be there, were not.

He said the changes wrongly justified some of the things the campaigners against onshore wind were claiming.

'It is a game of who can shout the loudest, and unfortunately it is those who are against this turbine. It does give extra help to those against it. You have a minority who do not like it and they speak up.'

Concerns have also been raised by the renewables industry that the much higher rate of payments would make some developments uneconomic and stop them going ahead.

The new measures demand a five-fold increase in what developers are expected to pay residents for allowing wind turbines in their local area, up from £1,000 per megawatt of installed power to £5,000.

A community agreeing to a medium-sized 20 megawatt windfarm that might involve around 10 turbines would receive a package of benefits worth £100,000 a year or see up to £400 cut from each household's bill.

But Liberal Democrat energy secretary Ed Davey has insisted that the government remained committed to 'appropriately sited onshore wind' as part of a diverse, low-carbon and secure energy mix.

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