With pressure on the Government to use renewable energy, wind turbines could soon be installed without the need for planning permission. Patrice John discovers there is already a growing backlash among communities to such schemes.
“I am not against wind turbines but it depends on where you put them and against a backdrop of a rural church in a countryside village, I think presents a conflict.”
Nigel Tongue is fighting proposals for the country’s largest wind turbines on his doorstep in Clifton Campville, Staffordshire.
The chairman of the village hall, along with many residents, feels not enough consultation has been carried out regarding the installation of a 250ft wind speed testing mast in the Thorpe, Clifton, Harlaston area and the proposed development of four 400ft commercial wind turbines on the outskirts of Haunton, a village between Clifton and Harlaston.
“Wind turbines I think are reasonably inefficient but they can be seen and the Government likes anything eco to be seen but the problem is where you locate them,” he explained.
“The four that are planned within our parish are very close to a small rural village, they will be a very prominent part of our skyline and be seen from many miles around. St Andrew’s Church in the village is 650 years old with a spire measuring 188ft. This will be against a turbine double the size. There are other places they could be located which don’t affect residents in rural areas such as coastal areas. This is pure greenbelt – they wouldn’t allow houses, schools or shops to be built here.”
County councillor Matthew Ellis said the views expressed by Mr Tongue are common among residents.
“A lot of residents felt hard done by. There were several issues and these proposals are for the largest in the country. Some residents are not particularly against turbines but they are furious that they haven’t been consulted.”
The application is due to be made in February about half a mile from the current test site.
Although assurances have been given that notices will be put up around the area, Mr Ellis is sending out letters to 600 homes informing them of the situation.
Mr Tongue, 55, an architectural consultant, fears that more wind turbines will be forced upon residents as planning laws become more relaxed.
He said: “The Government is moving towards making planning permission easier. It already fiddled with permitted development rights for householders last year. There is a lot of talk about planning permission being easier to get without consultation and appeals are being streamlined. I fear this will get worse.”
The situation in Staffordshire is echoed across the country as the need for cleaner, greener energy across the UK continues to dominate the political agenda.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has published proposals that would allow wind turbines to be installed throughout the country without planning permission.
Housing minister John Healey announced the change would allow home owners and councils to install wind turbines, charging points for electric cars and solar panels. The change in planning law is designed to make it easier for large-scale wind farms to escape local planning wrangles.
It will also allow turbines of up to 15ft to be installed on industrial estates and farmland without permission.
The Conservatives have proposed communities should get lower gas and electricity bills for up to 25 years if they did not dispute wind farm developments.
Proposals included allowing residents to share in the proceeds of business rates paid by wind farms for six years after they were built.
Shadow energy and climate secretary Greg Clark said: “Onshore wind is often a divisive subject, driven by bitter planning disputes which are bad for climate change policy, bad for the wind power industry and bad for local communities.
“I would argue that wind farm applications are often bogged down because there is no clear benefit to local communities in hosting them.”
The Conservatives raised a common argument as even small-scale projects have historically attracted opposition from residents.
There are currently at least ten wind turbine projects planned for the West Midlands and the opposition is rife.
David Wallbank is against the proposal to place three wind turbines on the Strensham and Twyning border, between Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. The member of the pressure group Strensham Wind Action believes the latest change to planning law by the Government is designed to railroad public opinion.
“For the Government to change the law shows me that they are prepared to say one thing and do another,” he said. “They have said they want to take account of local views and local people, but it seems that they will do what they want in the end.
“Turbines always attract a lot of local opposition and the Government must know this, otherwise they would not try to change the law.
“I think they are just trying to push things through because they know there will be opposition.
“There seems to be a sense of panic about where our energy is going to come from as a lot of old power stations will have to be taken out of service.
“We are concerned about turbines in our area because they will be very dominant on the landscape and we’re worried about noise, property values and our general health.”
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is in favour of renewable energy and wind turbines but is cautious about the change to planning law.
A CPRE spokeswoman said: “While welcoming renewable energy, the CPRE has serious concerns.
“If the beauty of the countryside isn’t protected, it’s a free for all.
“We are concerned that the proposals for wind turbines on farmland don’t offer enough protection for World Heritage sites and National Parks and other important landscapes.
“It is vital that local authorities are involved in decisions about where turbines are installed, and their design.
“We need tough rules so that permitted development isn’t allowed to become a nuisance, and what must be safeguarded are issues like noise levels, size, location and the potential impact on the tranquillity and beauty of the countryside.”
Paul Miner, the CPRE’s senior planning officer, added: “We welcome this, but we would want to see local authorities have the power to control siting and design of small wind turbines in sensitive areas of countryside, so that they could be sited with minimum landscape impact.”
However the BWEA, the professional body for UK wind and renewable industries, said residents should look at the wider benefits of wind farm schemes.
Spokesman Nick Medic said: “As studies have shown, most recently from Ofgem, not investing in renewable energy now could leave us scrambling for expensive fossil fuels in the future, thus pushing up energy bills. In terms of jobs, we could be looking at more then a ten-fold increase from around 5,000 direct jobs today to 60,000 in 2020.
“Finally with wind energy we will be decreasing our dependence on foreign energy imports.
“Public opinion surveys consistently show that 80 per cent of people in the UK are in favour of wind energy with only seven per cent directly opposed. Those who do, tend to oppose them on aesthetic grounds.
“We are urging opponents of wind to consider the wider public and global benefits of more renewables.”
West Midlands Friends of the Earth campaigner Chris Crean said the best way to get communities to embrace wind turbines is to give them ownership and a say in what is going on.
If residents were able to benefit from the power that came from the turbines they would be more receptive to having them, he added.
“When some people find out a wind turbine will be in installed near their homes, they automatically think they’ll be getting cheap electricity, and that is just not true,” he said.
“If, however, communities were able to benefit from the turbines near their homes they might be more accepting of them.
“To do this, there would have to be a real change in the National Grid, and I don’t think that can happen as yet.”
Mr Crean welcomed the Government’s proposals to make it easier for people to install renewable technologies and said wind turbines were a step in the right direction. He said: “Amending planning controls to make it easier for small-scale renewable energy systems to be installed should encourage more people to play their part in developing a greener future.
“But these schemes would be given an even bigger boost if the Government improved on its plans to introduce a feed-in tariff next year – homes, businesses and communities must be paid more generously than currently intended for the green energy they generate.
“Climate change must be at the heart of planning policy – the UK could be a world leader in green energy, reaping the substantial economic benefits this would bring.
“If we can get the mix right there are definitely ways to make this a win, win, win situation.”
* 1 Strensham/Twyning border in Worcestershire - plan for three turbines submitted by Wind Prospect Developments Limited in July 2008. The company has installed a monitoring mast, which will be erected for two years. It applied to build an access track to the site, which was rejected in April and the company has appealed.
2 Hoggs Hill, between Harlaston and Clifton Campville, near Tamworth – a plan for four wind turbines, which is believed to be being submitted in January 2010 by German company Prowind.? A 250ft high wind monitoring mast was erected and residents have voiced their objections to Lichfield District Council.
3? Abbots Bromley, Bagot’s Park Estate, Staffordshire – Airtricity plans to install eight turbines to develop a wind farm.
4? Bleak House, Burntwood, in Cannock – Peel Power has applied to place turbines on a former colliery site bordering Chase Terrace.
5? Aston Hall Farm, near Stone – Severn Trent Water wants to install three turbines between the villages of Aston-by-Stone and Burston. It also wants to submit a planning application for a test pole.
6? Bearstone, near Woore, in Shropshire – Nuon UK plans to build seven turbines on the Staffordshire and Shropshire border.
7 ?Reeves Hill, in Herefordshire – application for four turbines at Reeves Hill between Knighton and Lingen. Herefordshire Council was set to approve the decision, but it was referred to the then Communities and Local Government secretary Hazel Blears for consideration.
8? The Lenches, The Vale of Evesham, in Worcestershire – ScottishPower Renewables plans to build 10 turbines on farmland. The proposals were opposed by the Vale Villagers Against Scottishpower (VVASP).
9? Starbold, near Knightcote and Bishop’s Itchington, South Warwickshire – Broadview Energy applied to Stratford-on-Avon District Council to install six turbines. Consultations are currently being held with parish councils, the Highways Agency and Natural England about the plans.
10? Yelvertoft, east of Rugby – Your Energy Ltd has submitted a planning application for an eight-turbine wind farm near the M1.