The Northumberland Environmental Policy Group (NEPG) is now 5 years old. With help from a number of generous donors, over the course of the past 5 years the group has articulated the N&N Society’s concern regarding commercial wind turbine development in Northumberland and the consequent threats to the County’s landscapes and communities.
The cost of our contribution, funded by generous donations from NEPG supporters, has been considerable; we raised in excess of £35,000 and procured expert advice to consolidate many hundreds of hours of work from a dedicated committee.
We have taken every opportunity to brief our elected representatives and report progress regularly in City and County magazine. During the past 5 years, we have, via press releases, highlighted the extent of Northumberland landscape damage. This was focused particularly in 2014 during the House of Lords debate.
Together with our experts, we have on a number of occasions met with Northumberland County Council (NCC) officers. Our views are trusted to reflect the interest of Northumbrians and to be without financial interest.
In June 2015, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Community and Local Government issued important statements removing subsidies from future onshore wind and empowering local people to have the final say in any future wind development.
NEPG welcomed these developments and regarded them as potentially signifying the end of large scale turbine development in Northumberland. We commissioned expert advice as to their potential impact. This confirmed that the planning balance had changed dramatically from a previously, largely enabling one. New tests were introduced; any future turbine application was to depend on the proposal being in an area “identified as suitable” in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan, it would also require the “concerns” of local communities to be “fully addressed” so that “the proposal has their backing”.
While intended by the Government to be helpful to those threatened by inappropriate wind-farm development, the “identification of suitable areas”, unless very strictly confined, risked undermining the “criteria based” draft policies for which we had successfully argued in the previous local plan.
Our expert confirmed that (so long as there were good reasons), there was no obligation on the County Council to “identify suitable areas” (the exercise would take considerable time and funds, quite apart from the acknowledged commitment to wind which Northumberland has already made).
We accordingly argued against a county-wide “identification” fearing that it would take us back to the old “Areas of Least Constraint” which had caused so much earlier damage, putting many communities under severe stress for years at a time.
Following NCC elections in 2017 and the newly elected Council’s withdrawal of the Pre-Submission Draft Local Plan, NCC commissioned a landscape study to “quantify the sensitivity of Northumberland landscapes” to varying heights of turbine.
We have had sight of this study and have serious reservations as to the conclusions the Council has drawn from it in its subsequent “technical document”. That latter document has unfortunately become the basis for emerging policy, the consultation period in relation to which closed on 15th August 2018.
Unless the direction of travel of the emerging policies is radically changed, we believe there to be a strong likelihood that further inappropriate wind turbine development will follow, contrary to the wishes of “local communities”. That would be perverse given the Government’s plain intention to give local people, in effect, the dominant role in deciding whether wind turbines should be erected in their areas.
Our aim is to curtail the flawed “identification of suitable areas” and retain a criterion-based approach. The new policies, when finalised, will be with us for many years.
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THANK YOUAreas Suitable for Wind Turbine Development
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