‘Nimbys’ blamed for lack of Norfolk turbines
Doubts have been raised over whether the region can make a significant dent into Britain's renewable energy target after it emerged that just four giant onshore wind schemes have received approval in Norfolk and north Suffolk in the last three years.
Wind energy has been touted as a key part of the country's efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and decarbonise electricity supplies. But renewable energy firms last night blamed red tape, a 'broken' planning system, and opposition from vocal 'Nimby' groups for the scant number of masts that have received planning consent in recent years.
And onshore wind farm projects could be forced to jump even more planning hurdles under proposals to give communities more power over local affairs within the coalition government's Localism Bill.
Whilst dozens of small masts, less than 18m high, have been approved, figures obtained by the EDP show that just four large-scale schemes –amounting to 11 additional masts more than 100m high – have been granted in Norfolk and north Suffolk since 2008. In that time another five have been refused and another six are in the planning or legal system.
However, opposition groups said that the majority of wind farm applications posed a significant risk to the countryside and to the quality of life for local residents and offshore wind and other renewable energy sources would help Britain to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
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As reported by the EDP last week, the opposition to onshore projects in Norfolk has caused one locally-based firm, Enertrag, to review its operations after citing a lack of 'political support'. Managing director Neil Lindsay blamed decision-makers for siding with the anti-turbine 'minority' after the company had failed to get a single turbine approved in south Norfolk since it opened an office in Diss more than six years ago.
Mike Cheshire, spokesman for Ecotricity, which operates two turbines at Swaffham and has two long-running schemes in the planning process at Hethel, near Wymondham, and Shipdham, near Dereham, added that Britain was at risk of becoming the 'black sheep' of Europe and only Malta and Luxembourg in the EU have less onshore turbines.
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He added that Nimbys and BANANAs – 'Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone' –have proved a major barrier to most applications and the Localism Bill could make matters more problematic.
'We still have relatively few turbines in this country compared to France, Germany and Spain. Their countryside is just as beautiful as ours, but they get on with it. We get tied up in planning red tape and politics and we have to be extremely patient and tenacious. It is a problem being stored up for future generations,' he said.
Developers are also concerned that the government's Localism Bill – called by some the Nimbys' charter – could further slow the planning system by allowing referendums on local issues, including planning decisions.
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk and parliamentary private secretary for climate change minister Gregory Baker, said people's appetite for wind farms would increase if there was a reasonable financial return being injected into communities.
'I think what concerns people in Norfolk is onshore wind turbines being dumped on them without having a say or benefit. I think the Localism Bill in parliament at the moment contains some important principles about local community benefits, which at the moment are applied to housing, but could be very interesting if they were applied to wind.'
'Micro wind generation is quite popular. What people do not like is the industrial scale farms which do not seem to be in keeping with our landscape,' he said.
The coalition government has scrapped the East of England's renewable energy target, which had called on the region to produce 20pc of its electricity from renewables by 2020. However, a spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change said the government was still committed to a 15pc renewable energy target by 2020 and a 'road map' will be published setting out how Britain will meet that EU benchmark. He added that the Localism Bill would mean that energy companies would be made to talk to communities much earlier in the planning process.
South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon added: 'There is a lot of opposition across the country to turbines and I would be surprised if the consequences of the Localism Bill did not give more weight to the views of local people.'
A deal was struck earlier this month, 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.
Lucy Melrose, of the 4Villages campaign, which won a battle over three turbines on land between Rushall, Dickleburgh, Pulham Market and Pulham St Mary last year, said the planning system needed to change to force companies to choose the most suitable sites for wind energy.
'The great difficulty is that we live in a small and very overcrowded island and the fact is that there are very few locations that are suitable. When you avoid areas of outstanding natural beauty, the spaces that are left are too close to homes and if you build them close to a home, they are overbearing,' she said.
Charles Anglin, spokesman for RenewableUK, added that the trade association was waiting for more clarity on how the Localism Bill will involve neighbourhoods in the decision-making process.