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Villagers in last stand to stop wind farm appeal ‘destroying our countryside’

November 26, 2013
MASTER OF CEREMONIES: St Andrew's Church spire, one of the tallest village steeples in England, could be dwarfed by the 334ft-high wind turbines

MASTER OF CEREMONIES: St Andrew’s Church spire, one of the tallest village steeples in England, could be dwarfed by the 334ft-high wind turbines

VILLAGERS near Tamworth are being urged to make “one last push” to blow away plans they claim would destroy the peace and beauty of a quintessentially English scene which has stood guard over the countryside for 1,000 years.

Campaigning communities are mounting a final protest to the government to stop two towering wind turbines from dwarfing the dreamy spire of St Andrew’s Church in Clifton Campville in an “ancient versus modern” battle to a village life unchallenged until now since the Domesday Book of 1086.

Earlier this year council planners in Lichfield threw out controversial proposals 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 (UK) Ltd, 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.

Now Prowind has lodged an appeal after the district authority’s planning committee rejected an application they felt would be an “unacceptable visual intrusion in the local landscape”, harming the character and appearance of the countryside.

A 33-page report – which contained 167 letters of objection from individuals – warned of the detrimental impact on villages and surrounds, the disadvantages to the area which would “outweigh the contribution made by the turbines to sustainable energy generation”.

Planners feared that the proposed 500mw turbines would be 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 14th century St Andrew’s spire – which at 305ft high is one of the tallest steeples in the country – 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.

As the planning inspectorate, based in Bristol, is set to decide the outcome of the appeal next month – I am making a plea to my constituents to “make their final objections heard before it’s too late.”

It could be Haunton today and Hinckley tomorrow. Allowing the proverbial wind cat out of the bag could have disastrous consequences for our future visual wellbeing.

Too many wind turbines will surely have a major impact on our historic skyline in not just the Mease & Tame ward but further afield in the Lichfield district.

If this appeal is allowed to stand, it will certainly be the case that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Outraged villagers have found themselves doing battle with a neighbour. 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.

Going to war “with the enemy within” has seen one side of Main Road in Haunton with SNAP posters (Say No And Protest) dominating the verges – directly opposite Haunton Manor Farm, the home of the MEP.

I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the neighbours of Liberal-Democrat MEP Phil Bennion in opposing this ill-advised application on his land.

As a villager dweller myself and lover of the countryside I want rid of this proposed damned spot on our precious landscape.

If this appeal is successful by Prowind I won’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 across the Staffordshire and Warwickshire 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.

Mease Valley’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.”

PROTEST SIGNS: Wind turbine plans stir up village of Haunton

PROTEST SIGNS: Wind turbine plans stir up village of Haunton

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.”

The council report which lead to planning members rejecting the proposal pointed 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.

Rural bodies 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 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’m upset the MEP for 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 appeal is granted 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.

Communities are facing a 30 per cent Green Tax to do ‘our bit’ for the global environment, which includes more wind farms, but I am in no doubt that this is dragging the old and vulnerable into fuel poverty – with examples known to me of ladies in their eighties having to sit in the armchairs at home wrapped in a blanket with hot water bottles to back and front – rather than put their electric heater on or make a fire up.

MEP Bennion, the subject of unsubstantiated reports that his rental fee to Prowind will be £50,000 a year, has 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.

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 this 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”.

DRIVING AN ILL WIND?: The unspoilt vista from Twizles Lane, Haunton

DRIVING AN ILL WIND?: The unspoilt vista from Twizles Lane, Haunton

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.”

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.”

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