An urgent study should be carried out to assess the potential impact of the growing number of wind farms on Northumberland’s vital tourism industry, it is claimed.
Conservative councillors say research should be conducted with visitors and local tourism businesses to build up a comprehensive evidence base of their perceptions of wind turbines.
The call comes amid plans for more massive turbines in Northumberland – and growing political pressure nationally for action to halt their spread.
Next week the county council will be asked to support a motion by opposition Tory group deputy leader Glen Sanderson calling on the authority to conduct a wide-ranging study into the effect of existing and planned onshore wind farms on the tourism industry.
The motion says: “This is crucial in order to determine the impact such large-scale developments may have on our local businesses and visitor perception.”
Tourism is said to support more than 13,000 jobs in Northumberland, and pump £665m into the economy.
The county currently has 33 operational turbines, almost 100 more have been given planning permission and others are in the planning system or under site investigation. Proposals at places such as Tranwell and Fenrother, near Morpeth, continue to cause controversy.
Coun Sanderson said: “We are trying to find all-party consensus to carry out a study and build up more of an evidence base about the impact wind farms have on visitors’ perceptions of Northumberland.
“Often at planning committees we have a shortage of real evidence on what effect onshore wind farms have on tourism and the rural economy, and end up scratching around for other reports from places like Scotland.
“This is an issue that is not going away and we feel we should be asking visitors, and tourism businesses such as bed and breakfasts, restaurants, village shops, caravan sites and cafes, what their thoughts are. We don’t know what way it will go, but we have an idea that visitors generally feel that the landscape is being spoiled in Northumberland. I can’t see why anyone would not want to gather such an evidence base to strengthen our planning process.”
Jeff Sutheran, who runs an award-winning bed and breakfast in Seahouses and chairs the North Northumberland Tourism Association, said the findings of such a study would be interesting.
“This is obviously an issue that divides opinion like nothing else. We have people in our association who are really green and pro-wind energy, and others who think turbines are scarring the landscape.”
County planning officials say similar research carried out in other parts of the UK has not revealed a negative impact on tourism.