Villagers huff and puff, planners ready to blow down ‘harmful’ giant wind turbine proposals
CAMPAIGNING communities near Tamworth, who went to war with the enemy within, look to have saved their quintessentially English landscape for future generations from the “damned spot” of a wind farm.
Council planners in Lichfield are set to reject proposals which would have seen two towering turbines dwarf the dreamy spire of St Andrew’s Church in Clifton Campville – one of the tallest steeples in the country – and whose guard of the countryside vista has remained unchallenged for 800 years.
In a script that could have been plucked from TV’s famous Seventies sitcom The Good Life, outraged villagers found themselves doing battle with a neighbour – as they tried to preserve the idyllic peace and beauty of places mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
On one side of Main Road in Haunton, the SNAP posters (Say No And Protest) dominate the verges – directly opposite Haunton Manor Farm, the home of where residents have been directing much of their anger for the past three years.
And in the firing line is one of their own – Haunton farmer and West Midlands Liberal Democrat MEP Phil Bennion who is ready to lease 250 acres of his land to a German company with designs on transforming the planet into an inland sea of renewable energy.
I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the neighbours of Liberal-Democrat MEP Phil Bennion in opposing this ill-advised application on his land.
Putting politics aside, first and foremost as a villager dweller myself and lover of the countryside I want rid of this proposed damned spot on our precious landscape.
If this application is allowed to stand, it will certainly be the case that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and I wouldn’t be able to forgive Mr Bennion for riding roughshod over his countryside constituents while potentially lining his own pockets from renting out his farmland to house the turbines.
This fight has brought together not just the affronted villagers on the Staffordshire borders from the outskirts of Haunton through Clifton Campville, Edingale, Harlaston, Whittington, Alrewas, Chilcote, Coton in the Elms to Newton Regis but seen the Anglican and Catholic religions unusually join forces in opposition.
MeaseValley’s Anglican rector, the Rev Garry Thompson, who looks after the grade 1-listed St Andrew’s Church in Clifton, said: “Aside from the fact that they blight the countryside, I’m not convinced that wind turbines produce adequate amounts of power for the upset they generate.”
Meanwhile Sister Anne Marie Eden, speaking for the Catholic order of St Joseph’s in Haunton, said that people come to the convent for quiet tranquility.
She asked: “What is going to happen if we do not fight for our countryside? We need beautiful natural things to look at.”
Now Lichfield District Council’s planning committee, which meets on Monday, is being recommended to throw out the controversial plan to site two 334ft-high wind turbines at Hogs Hill on land at the back of Main Road, Haunton and adjacent to Twizles Lane by Osnabruck-based Prowind, and its managing director Johannes Busmann, who critics claim is unashamedly trying to cash in on a slice of more than £500m of taxpayer-assisted government wind subsidies.
Council officers want the committee to turn down the application because they believe the giant bladed turbines are an “unacceptable visual intrusion in the local landscape”, harming the character and appearance of the countryside.
A report to the committee says with a detrimental impact on villages and surrounds, the disadvantages to the area would “outweigh the contribution made by the turbines to sustainable energy generation”.
Planners are also worried that the proposed 500mw turbines are too big and too close to nearby homes – presenting a dominating and overbearing impact on villagers’ outlooks.
The scale of the application would cause “substantial harm” to 18th century farmhouse Dunnimere Farm and four barn conversions, dwarf the 305ft-high St Andrew’s spire and have a detrimental affect on the character and setting of listed buildings and other heritage assets as far afield as the National Memorial Arboretum and Lichfield Cathedral.
The report goes on to point out that there are six conservation areas within a three mile radius of the application – all of which owe much of their character and value to the same unspoiled rural setting.
A total of 167 letters of objection have been received from individual constituents, citing 41 summary points of objection in a local authority report that stretches to 33 pages.
Rural bodies have warned of turbines desecrating the countryside – with noise and transport hazards impacting on residents’ health and threatening wildlife. Clifton with Thorpe, Harlaston and Edingale Parish Councils have joined English Heritage, Natural England and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in a long list of dissenting voices – the latter maintaining that while sustainable energy generation is high on its agenda, it is “unconvinced” that on-shore wind power is defensible.
“Power is available at best only 30 per cent of the time and requires fossil fuel or nuclear generation back up at enormous expense. It is only economically viable if supported by huge public subsidies,” the CPRE says in the report.
Villagers have been fighting the threat of wind farm proliferation since June 2010 when a proposal for four turbines was submitted but later withdrawn – leaving an estimated £90,000 administration bill for local council taxpayers to pay.
Hundreds of villagers, supported by Lichfield councillor Arnold and outgoing county councillor Matthew Ellis, have packed protest meetings in the area and signed a petition to halt the threat of giant turbines dominating the skyline. They even had to pay £2,500 out of their own pockets to commission RSK Consulting for a detailed report to challenge the validity of the application.
The report “found significant weaknesses and factual errors” with Prowind “not fulfilling basic statutory requirements and using flawed methodology in reaching their conclusions”.
I feel that the MEP was putting himself before his own constituents. The people have paid twice for this application. As well as being forced to stump up £2,500 for a detailed report to challenge its validity, as taxpayers they are having to contribute to a £500m government fund for companies wanting to benefit from wind subsidies.
The impact in terms of scale and size of these turbines would leave a devastating and lasting imprint on a 12-mile radius of outstanding English beauty.
I fear if this gets the green light in an area of outstanding charm and tranquility – then no part of the English countryside would be safe from the giant whirling dervishes that pass as the power generators of tomorrow.
The other protest campaign champion, county councillor Ellis, quoted a dark warning from the Germans, who still seemed to be stinging from their earlier costly defeat: “We did not spend this amount of money just to walk away from it.”
MEP Bennion refused to be drawn into the debate.
His website proudly offers this advice: “I am determined to fight for the vital interests of the whole of the region in the EU. From the shire counties to the manufacturing heart of the nation in Birmingham, our region’s economic and environmental future will be shaped by our relationship with the EU.
“I have always been pro-European. I am a strong supporter of a more liberal and democratic EU that concentrates on what it should be doing as simply and efficiently as possible. We are stronger together and would be much poorer apart.”
Prowind, massive players in a fast-moving industry, are already committed to building new turbines in Ottawa, Canada, as well as developing a 120-unit wind farm in north eastern Romania with General Electric Company by the end of the year.
The Osnabruck firm promises that anyone who leases land to Prowind will receive a guaranteed income. And it also offered to provide a community benefit scheme annual fund of £10,000 to local parishes “during the life of development”.
Their motto: “We are Prowind. We bring the fresh breeze of renewable energy into your world to provide clean sustainable power for current and future generations – promoting independence from fossil fuels.”
The company’s website says. “We develop economic power generation in partnership with landowners, farmers and small communities – our trustworthy, competent, ecological and responsible behaviour is vital for the maintenance of our solid, regional, national and international reputation.”
Finally, one resident summed up the feelings of many when he said: “Wind development has nothing to do with green, renewable, sustainable energy – and everything to do with a cute company and a small number of landowners all grabbing the government subsidy money from taxpayers as fast as they can while it lasts, while their neighbours pay the price.
“Many farmers and participating landowners justify their support to local authority officials saying ‘wind energy is the right thing to’ .
“If they really believe that, then why are they cashing cheques? Why are they not telling the wind developer to ‘keep the money and put up as many on my land as you want, it’s the least I can do to help’?”
Prime Minister David Cameron – St George’s Day (April 23) 2012