THERE was surprise and delight last Thursday when planning inspector Neil Pope rejected Ecotricity's scheme to erect four giant wind turbines at Silton, and announced his decision ten days earlier than expected.
After a 12-day public inquiry in Sturminster Newton, spread from 28th February to 27th September, Mr Pope concluded that the potential "wider environmental and economic benefits of the scheme" would be outweighed by the effects on the character and appearance of the area.
Those who had opposed the scheme – from North Dorset district councillors who went against their officers' recommendations when the plan first came to the council, representatives of the nearby Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, supporters of Save Our Silton and other local residents – received the news with cheers and relief.
Those who supported the scheme (but had been absent from the public inquiry at which they could have made their views known) criticised the result and thought it might have been different had the original scheme had local community backing.
Silton resident David Masters, who co-ordinated the SOS case, told the BVM: "Silton is so relieved and thankful that the Inspector, in a very well-reasoned decision, has unequivocally dismissed the appeal.
"We have maintained throughout this long and drawn-out process that the scheme for these turbines was unacceptable and in the wrong location, and he has now confirmed it. Emphasis was placed on the setting of St Nicholas Church and Silton House as Grade 1 and Grade 2 listed buildings along with the Wyndham Oak and the Inspector has added Manor Farm as a Grade 2 listed building to all of these historic assets which would be unacceptably harmed by the proposals."
Chris Langham, chairman of SOS, said: "We're delighted that after a gruelling five-year battle, the planning inspector agrees that this is the wrong place for a wind farm and has decided to safeguard the countryside that we hold dear.
"This battle has required a huge effort and financial sacrifice by our members and I'm so pleased that it hasn't been in vain."
Renewable energy campaigner Keith Wheaton-Green, whose opinions about the scheme were sent to the BVM but who did not contribute to the public inquiry at Sturminster Newton, said this week : "We believe all renewable energy installations have value. However, the Silton turbines were not universally accepted because the project had not grown from the local community and the very substantial financial rewards would not have been spread locally beyond the landowner."
And fellow Energise Stur Valley member Wendy Pillar said: "The result of the inquiry is disappointing as I believe it reflects a well-organised campaign more than the majority view.
"On-shore wind power remains a valuable part of the solution to the pending energy crisis, although projects are better organised from within the community."
David Milsted, the Gillingham member of North Dorset District Council who originally proposed the refusal of planning permission, said: "This is more than the dismissal of a planning appeal: it is a comprehensive and definitive ruling that no wind farm development will ever be acceptable in this area. It is also a vindication of the tenacity and courage of the Save Our Silton campaigners."
North Dorset MP Robert Walter, who went to the public inquiry to oppose the scheme, said: "I am absolutely thrilled that the planning inspector has decided to unequivocally reject Next Generation Limited's (Ecotricity's) appeal against North Dorset District Council's decision to turn down its unwanted application.
"This decision was reached following a thorough analysis of the evidence presented to the inspector in February and September and is a victory for localism, common sense and the countryside."
For a report on the decision see pages 115-116.