Wind turbine inquiry - inspector urged to reject "inefficient, useless monsters"
PLANS for four giant wind turbines at Silton would have a "cruel effect" on jobs in the area, an objector told the reconvened public inquiry at Sturminster Newton on Tuesday.
And another witness, chartered engineer and company director Christopher Langham described the financial status of the wind turbine company as "flimsy."
The public inquiry is being held into an appeal by Ecotricity against North Dorset District Council's refusal of permission to erect four giant wind turbines on farmland at Silton. The first five days of the hearing were in February and March, and now inspector Neil Pope will hear a further seven or eight days of evidence and submissions.
Again The Exchange at Sturminster Newton was filled with objectors, with not one member of the public asking to speak in support of the plans, although Ecotricity had told the previous session that 85 per cent of Dorset residents were in favour of wind farms.
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A witness for Save Our Silton, the residents' group that opposes the scheme, asked that if the inspector decided to grant permission, he should insist on a bond with the parent company to finance the removal of the turbines at the end of their useful life.
Christopher Langham told the inquiry that Ecotricity sets up small subsidiaries to run each of its wind farms – companies with "about £100 capital and few assets" – which could not possibly foot the bill (which he estimated at £500,000) to decommission each turbine.
These small companies were "flimsy," he said, a word he also applied to Stroud-based Ecotricity, which in the last financial year posted debts of £51 million with a trading profit of just £1.7 million.
"You don't need to be an accountant to see they are over-indebted and unlikely to survive another 25 years" - the operational life of a wind turbine - said Mr Langham.
Diana Masters, a Silton resident for 45 years, told the inspector that it was a village where planning policies meant it would not be possible to get permission even to build a bungalow.
"Usually, planning applications are supported by the estimated number of jobs that the project will create," she said. "But this one will positively lose jobs. It is a cruel effect, especially in these difficult times when jobs are hard to come by and people are more inclined to take staycations."
She felt that the "thousands of tons of concrete" that would be needed in underground infrastructure for the turbines would seriously reduce the ground available for rainfall and snow soakaway.
"I am far from convinced that these wind turbines will not have a greater carbon footprint than they are meant to save," she said, pointing out that the new Environment Secretary (Owen Paterson) said last week that wind farms were not the answer to climate change.
Mrs Masters also told the inquiry that on a recent trip to France she had noticed "many a bored turbine waiting for a breath of wind to produce the odd kilowatt of power ... turbines are so yesterday," she said, leaving the stand to applause from objectors.
Farmer's wife Jackie Ridout from Milton on Stour, spoke of her human right to live "without these inefficient, useless monsters near our homes," and asked the inspector to turn "this windless windfarm" down.
Charles Spencer, chairman of Zeals Parish Council, said his council and all those who attended a special meeting about the turbine proposals were opposed to the scheme. The turbines would dominate views from the entire village and its surroundings.
"It's quite frightening that they would be seen above our church," he said.
Barrister and Save Our Silton member John Jones said his objections were mainly on landscape grounds.
The land on which the four turbines were planned is 433 feet above sea level – one of the highest points in the Blackmore Vale. The turbines are 393ft high and would be visible from a wide surrounding area.
"This application is likely to be a Trojan horse, as similar applications would be almost irresistible," he said.
"Turbines are driven by subsidies, and not by wind," he said, "targets are one thing, but generating electricity is a different matter."
Roger Weeks, a former paratrooper, born in Silton and now living in Gillingham said the issue was, could wind turbines save the planet, and what would be the scale of the impact of these four on the Blackmore Vale.
"We do not inherit the planet from our parents, we borrow it from our children," he said. "We need to ask ourselves if we can justify this legacy to our future generations."
The concrete for the bases of the turbines, which themselves would be higher than the tower of Silton Church, would be made by one of the most CO2-intensive operations known to man, he said.
Ecotricity team leader, barrister and solicitor David Hardy did not question any of the individual witnesses, only asking if they had expertise or knowledge of specific statistical data.
For Save our Silton, Mrs Nicky Baxter told the inquiry that her bed and breakfast business, established over 32 years at Slait Farm, the nearest property to the proposed wind farm, would be destroyed by the development.
She would no longer be able to advertise a quiet and restful country location.
She also doubted the viability of the turbines. "This area has never had windmills, all the mills in the past have been water-powered," she said.
Former sheep farmer Cynthia Brierley said she and her partner David Smith had moved to Valhalla in Silton because of its views.
"But it is not just a view – it's a vista," she said. During the Second World War the searchlights for Zeals Airfield had been sited at Valhalla. The huge structures of the wind farm would completely dominate their view to the west.
"There would be no escape for us," she said.
"Please sir, say no!" she begged the inspector.
The final witness of the first day was Ecotricity cultural heritage expert Dr Simon Collcutt.
On Wednesday, the first witness was North Dorset MP Robert Walter. Their statements will be reported in next week's BVM.
For more from the opening day's witnesses, visit www.thisisdorset.co.uk.
FOOTNOTE: Here is what it says on Ecotricity's website about the Silton scheme.
"The first turbines for Dorset. We have submitted a planning application to construct four turbines near the village of Silton, to the north west of Gillingham. These turbines will generate enough green energy to power over 6,000 homes, saving of the annual emission of nearly 10,000 tonnes of carbon. Dorset is one of the last counties off the mark when it comes to wind energy. To reach our national renewable energy targets, every county has their part to play in reducing our carbon emissions. It's a perfect time for Dorset to join the green revolution."