The public inquiry into Ecotricity’s appeal against North Dorset District Council’s refusal of permission to build four giant wind turbines on land near Silton on the Dorset-Somerset border has continued this week at The Exchange at Sturminster Newton..
Inspector Neil Pope has heard evidence from both Ecotricity and the district council, as well as from local residents group Save Our Silton and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A number of individual objectors have also given evidence.
This week’s session started on Tuesday with evidence from NDDC’s energy consultant Colin Godfrey, who put the situation into the context of a common sense approach.
“You put solar (voltaic panels) into Southern England where there is most light, and wind turbines into windy areas. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Mr Godfrey told the inquiry that he had considered both the Kyoto Protocol and the regularly updated reports on the UK’s progress in complying with its legal obligations to provide 15 per cent of its total energy use from renewable sources by 2020.
“There are no technology-specific targets, and hence no target for onshore wind,” he said.
Recent analysis had suggested that the contribution from onshore wind would be lower than previously forecast, with larger contributions from the biomass and offshore wind sectors.
The Government was looking to reduce the support given to onshore wind farms to ensure that only the best schemes would be brought forward to add to the capacity already given planning consent.
The Silton wind farm would not be a nationally significant project, he said.
“The key consideration is the national picture and the role for additional onshore wind capacity is modest and should be targeted at the best schemes. North Dorset is not a good location for large wind turbines.”
Mr Godfrey said at the Ecotricity scheme was badly designed and the estimated generation of electricity would be “poor.”
Since the inquiry opened at the end of February, before adjourning for almost seven months, the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework has been enacted, changing the emphasis and detail of much of the UK’s planning law.
Mr Godfrey said that the introduction of the Feed in Tariff had contributed to a growth of 91% in installed renewable capacity in Dorset since December 2010, and schemes already approved but awaiting implementation would take the total above the target for the county.
Cross examined by Mr David Hardy, counsel for Ecotricity, who said that targets should be treated as “floors, not ceilings”, Mr Godfrey said that while the Alaska Wind Farm near East Stoke in Dorset had recently been granted on appeal, the case had now been referred to the High Court and so the findings should not be relied on.
(Wimborne-based Infinergy has permission for four giant turbines at the Alaska farm, sited at the former Masters Quarry between Wareham and Wool, granted on appeal in July.)
Mark Wood, the district council’s planning consultant, told the inquiry that the new planning framework did not impose a presumption in favour of all renewable energy schemes. There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, he said, but that must be weighed up against all the considerations of each individual application.
These included environmental and heritage aspects, as well as the amenity of local residents.
Mr Hardy suggested that the legislation recognised that all wind turbine applications would bring with them an element of “harmful effect” which would lead to objections from local communities, and the legislation allowed for that effect in its backing of renewable energy schemes.
Mr Hardy asked Mr Godfrey about the evidence of local MP Robert Walter last week, and whether it was “playing the numbers game” which was not the correct way for the elected members to proceed in the face of their officers’ original recommendation for approval of the application.
Mr Godfrey said that it appeared from the reports to the NDDC committee that the amenities of local residents had not been taken into account. He accepted that the council’s case stood or fell on the (updated) evidence by Peter Radmall, on landscape and visual impact.
The BVM has received some criticism for reporting only the views of objectors, but no individual supporters of the turbines or renewable energy have registered to speak at the inquiry, so it has been impossible to report their views.
There are a number of letters in this week’s BVM which put the case for wind turbines. We welcome letters from readers on all sides of this important debate - send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The inquiry is scheduled to end this week and reports from the final days will appear on this website.