Visitors to Northumberland are to be asked whether their enjoyment of the county’s natural treasures is being spoiled by the sight of wind farms on the skyline.
Accommodation providers such as hotel, guesthouse, bed and breakfast, caravan park and restaurant owners are also set to be questioned about their guests’ perceptions of the massive turbines which have sprung up across the county’s moorlands.
The research will be carried out in a study which was given the green light by county councillors yesterday.
It will try to establish whether tourists are likely to be deterred from returning to Northumberland for holidays by the existing 33 operational turbines and almost 100 more which are waiting to be built.
The aim of the research will be to compile a strong evidence base for whether the vital tourism industry is likely to suffer serious economic impacts from the existing and planned wind farms.
The move comes amid claims that tourism provides employment for more than 13,000 people in Northumberland, catering for as much as 25% of total employment in some areas. Visitor spend is estimated at £700m a year.
Yesterday county councillors of all political parties supported a call by Conservative group deputy leader Glen Sanderson for the authority to commission a study into the effects of onshore wind farms on the tourism industry.
It will seek to provide the council with its own evidence on visitor perceptions of turbines, which can be used in assessing future applications for wind farms.
Coun Sanderson told the meeting in Morpeth that there is a lack of concrete evidence about what visitors think about the “growing presence” of the massive machines.
“Not only do we have the guardianship of our extraordinary landscape, we have a duty to think of our tourism industry also,” he said.
Coun Sanderson said when trying to assess the potential effects of wind farms on tourism, the council had to rely on data such as a 2008 study in Scotland, which was seen by many as out of date and not specific to Northumberland.
“So there is growing concern that we urgently need more evidence,” he added.
Tory councillor Anthony Murray said a local study is urgently needed as the county’s wide open spaces and unspoiled vistas – its biggest selling points – are gradually being taken away by arrays of turbines.
He said the research should seek the views of people who serve the tourist industry, such as bed and breakfast and hotel owners, to get facts and figures on the effect of wind farms.
Labour council leader Grant Davey said the administration supported the call for such a study, on condition that it did not affect planning or the council’s local development framework and was funded from existing budgets.
The decision comes amid plans for more turbines in Northumberland – and growing political pressure nationally for action to halt their spread.
Battles are currently being fought over wind farm schemes in locations including Fenrother and Tranwell near Morpeth.