Silton wind turbine inquiry: Decision expected no later than November 19
The public inquiry into the erection of four wind turbines on farm fields near Silton on the Dorset/Somerset/Wiltshire border closed at Sturminster Newton after 12 days of evidence.
On every day of the inquiry and twice on the final day, immediately before the closing submissions, inspector Neil Pope invited comments from “any interested parties” who filled the public gallery. He closed the inquiry by promising that his decision would be announced “not later than 19th November.”
In spite of comments from some Blackmore Vale Magazine readers that the reports of the inquiry have been one sided, and often repeated assertions by Mr David Hardy, counsel for Ecotricity, (whose appeal against North Dorset District Council’s refusal of the application was the foundation of the inquiry,) that 85 per cent of people in Dorset support on shore wind farms, not one person registered to speak in favour of the application.
Our reporter understands that one representative of a Sturminster-based environmental group went to The Exchange on Monday 24th September wishing to support the development, but unaware that planning inquiries never sit on Mondays. He was told he could return on the following day, but apparently did not.
SAFEGARD PAINT & UPHOLSTERY PROTECTION PACKAGE - £220 inc Vat.View details
Safegard paint & upholstery protection package £220. Brilliant paintwork shine & scotch guarded interior trim. Includes FREE full valet prior to application. Includes FREE aftercare package.
Terms: Offer applies to all cars, 4x4's & people carriers upto 7 seats. Vehicles with more than 7 seats, Mini buses & Commercial Vehicles are excluded.
Contact: 01258 440743
Valid until: Friday, May 23 2014
One member of the public, who did not want to speak, handed in his objection to Mr Pope, who arranged to have it copied and given to both Ecotricity and NDDC, so that it could form part of the evidence to the inquiry. That option was also available to supporters of the scheme.
Day 11 of the inquiry began with the evidence of Craig Jones, the town planner and development consultant who appeared on behalf of Save Our Silton, a group of residents of the immediate area objecting to the proposals for the turbines.
He had told the inquiry that a positive endorsement for wind energy at a national level did not translate to unequivocal support for (wind farms) at every proposed location. The government guidance sought to achieve a balance between the aim of addressing climate change and the need to protect the natural environment, heritage and local amenity.
Mr Jones reminded the inquiry of the evidence of the two proprietors of tourism businesses – the closest buildings to the site – both of whom feared adverse reactions from their customers if the turbine scheme went ahead.
Mr Hardy forcefully pointed out that there was no research evidence to prove that wind farms had any negative effects on tourism. Indeed, because such a large proportion of the UK’s inhabitants favoured wind farms as a means to provide sustainable energy, he thought it would only be that small number who positively disliked wind farms who would be deterred from staying in what is now described as a peaceful, unspoiled rural setting, just because it had four wind turbines nearby.
The experience in Cornwall and the Lake District, where turbines are already installed, did not bear out the fears of the Dorset bed and breakfast and holiday chalet owners.
Mr Jones told the inquiry that the site was an “inappropriate location” for a scheme of this size. He also said that the proposed scheme would have considerable impact on the surrounding area, and that granting it might sterilise the chances of finding a better site in the general locality.
David Bell, a town planner appearing on behalf of Ecotricity, told the inspector that the proposal was in accord with the statutory Development Plan and material considerations were not of such weight that the consent should be refused, in fact he found that they supported the granting of permission.
The importance of the Government’s pursuit of measures to balance climate change was not in dispute.
Ecotricity had bought forward the Silton scheme in direct response to national planning policies on climate change and renewable energy.
The recently-enacted National Planning Policy Framework had reinforced those aims and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
None of the adverse effects on landscape, setting of important heritage assets or businesses were sufficiently compelling to force the refusal of permission, said Mr Bell, and the application should be approved without delay because it was in accordance with the relevant policies.
The wind farm would make a valuable contribution to the (missed) 2012 renewable energy target and the current 2020 target, which, under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, laid a legally binding obligation on the United Kingdom.
“An enormous gap needs to be filled in a relatively short space of time,” said Mr Bell, pointing out that should the Silton scheme be approved, it would not be contributing for at least two years – less than six years within the 2020 target.
The proposed wind farm was not within a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
There was direct economic benefit from granting the appeal, he said. Renewable energy schemes had so far provided 8,600 jobs in the UK. It was a public policy objective to stimulate the economy.
He could not assure the inquiry about the grid connection, but had no reason to expect it would not, as in most wind farms, be underground.
Cross examined by Peter Wadsley, for NDDC, he said that following the 2020 target there would be an ambition for further renewable energy sources, and he agreed that the targets would be achieved by a “mix of eight technologies.”
But Mr Bell warned against reliance on biomass, which he said not only required large scale importation of materials but had also encountered further problems, as had the “untried” offshore wind technologies. He foresaw a greater reliance on the tried and tested onshore wind technologies than was currently expected.
Mr Bell told the inquiry that if an element of the planning detail of any scheme was found to be unacceptable, the scheme should be refused – but there were no such unacceptable elements in this Silton application.
The inspector asked Mr Bell about the weight that should be given to the Bourton Village Design Statement. “Some, but it does not deal with renewable energy,” said Mr Bell.
He was also asked to what extent an effect on tourism should be taken into account. , and Mr Bell said that nothing had been raised hat necessitated the withholding of consent.
Many other wind farm applications were used as references to inform the inspector how his peers - and appeal judges - had dealt with the various aspects of this application.
Next week’s BV Magazine will include a summary of the closing statements submitted by Ecotricity, the North Dorset District Council, Save our Silton and the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.