Turbine ruling gives hope to onshore wind farm objectors
It is a subject that has caused heated debates in village halls and council chambers for the last 10 years.
Anti-turbine groups fear that giant masts in Norfolk and Waveney will blight the countryside and people's homes, while those in the pro camp are keen to see the region do its bit to meet green energy targets.
However, a High Court judge gave new ammunition to onshore wind-farm objectors last week after rejecting plans for four 105-metre high turbines near Hemsby and Ormesby, near Great Yarmouth, after ruling that government renewable energy targets should not override local planning policies.
In her ruling against the appeal by developer SLP Energy, Mrs Justice Lang said a planning inspector had been entitled to her view that government energy targets were outweighed by the harm the scheme would cause to the character and appearance of the area.
She added that the coalition government's focus on boosting renewable energy sources did not have 'primacy' over local conservation policies after a planning inspector refused consent for the wind farm in 2010.
The ruling has been welcomed by those opposing similar long-running onshore wind turbine schemes in Norfolk.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who has spoken out against developments at the former Pulham Airfield and another at the Tivetshalls in recent years, said the High Court judgement was a 'very encouraging development'.
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'One can only hope from the point of view of my constituents that it will affect other decisions on onshore turbines. A very small number of people want them and we are spending a great deal of money on them, which is pushing up energy prices. There has been a lot of lobbying, but little thought about sustainability.
'I have always been in favour of small-scale turbines and over many years we have had windmills on the landscape, but these enormous industrial structures are nothing of the kind. They are alien and do not belong here,' he said.
Mr Bacon added: 'There are lots of little simple things we can do for the environment like making sure new houses are built with rain water collection and we should do that rather than getting our knickers in a twist over renewable energy targets.'
The developer behind the most recent High Court judgement said the ruling would pose significant implications on future inland wind farms.
However, it came days after two energy companies won appeals on proposals near Fakenham, including five large turbines at Chiplow and six at Stanhoe.
Rob Norris, spokesman for RenewableUK, the trade association for the wind industry, said sites for wind-energy electricity generation should continue to be assessed on a case by case basis and judged on its merits.
'This is not the first wind-turbine judgement that has gone to the High Court and we do not think that the judgement of one High Court judge trumps every other application. For a judge to say that visual impact and the impact on the environment is always going to be more important than renewable energy targets is wrong as a sweeping statement,' he said.
RenewableUK officials argue that the country will lose a quarter of its current electricity resource by the end of the decade as a result of decommissioned coal powered and nuclear power stations.
They add that there are currently 3,000 onshore turbines in Britain with capacity of 5.5 gigawatts of electricity. However, the wind-energy target for 2020 is 13 gigawatts.
The government is committed to meeting a 15pc renewable energy target by 2020 – 5pc lower than the European Union target. The East of England had only met half of its 2010 10pc renewable energy target before the coalition government announced the end of regional spatial strategies.
However, Tom Leveridge, senior energy campaigner for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said a better balance needed to be struck between cutting CO2 emissions and protecting important landscapes.
'This application was another example of giant turbines being proposed in an inappropriate location. Mrs Justice Lang's decision will reassure other local communities keen to protect valued landscapes but who feel like their concerns are increasingly being ignored as a result of government energy policy,' he added.
'Local communities need to be empowered to decide for themselves how they want to contribute to tackling climate change including by identifying those areas where onshore wind is, and isn't, appropriate.'
A host of sites across Norfolk have been subjected to long-running wind farm applications, planning inquiries, and High Court rulings since the first large-scale turbine was built in the county, near Swaffham, 12 years ago.
A deal was struck last year which will see developers paying a minimum of �1,000 a year per megawatt of installed wind power to communities during the lifetime of a turbine scheme.
Geoff Hinchliffe, of the Campaign Against Nimbyism in Shipdham, which has been campaigning for onshore wind in the mid-Norfolk village for 10 years, does not think the recent ruling will make much of a difference to other wind turbine developments.
'There are some sites that are far too near homes and in our case we believe there is nothing wrong with our site. There is a hell of a lot of disinformation and people are looking for any excuse like bat movements or migrating geese,' he said.
'I think the government should be pushing more turbines inland. It costs twice as much to put them offshore. For every �1 subsidy in wind energy, �13 goes into coal and oil and �30 into nuclear. We have got to have a bit of everything, otherwise we will have a major energy problem in 10 to 15 years.'
Peter Forest, project developer for TCI Renewables, which has plans for three sites in south Norfolk, added that there was always uncertainty over how planning inspectors and judges rule on applications.
However, the Hemsby ruling did not solve the UK's energy problem and would only cause developers to seek other sites.