A LEADING conservation group claims council planning officers are attempting to undermine its serious concerns about the growing proliferation of wind turbines in Northumberland.
Two months ago the Northumberland and Newcastle Society claimed that the threat posed to the landscape by wind farms is possibly the biggest planning challenge the county has faced in modern times.
It called on the county council to take the threat seriously, and put in place “rigorous and carefully considered planning protection” in a new policy blueprint on renewable energy.
Now the 700-member society has voiced concerns that council planning officers are pursuing an agenda which goes well beyond the “balanced encouragement” which Government policy gives for wind energy.
In particular, it says it has evidence suggesting that planning officers are advising elected councillors that the society’s professionally prepared representations on wind energy should be “ignored or sidelined” as contrary to Government policy.
In a letter to the council Lester Sher,, who chairs the society’s Northumberland Environmental Policy Group (NEPG), says any such advice to decision-making councillors is incorrect.
He says the society’s concerns are supported by reports of the way in which individual wind turbine applications are being handled and presented by planning officers.
This includes allegations of vital information being omitted and incorrect legal advice being given about what councillors could and could not take into account.
Mr Sher’s letter says: “At meetings where this sort of imbalance is evident, we are informed that the frustration of councillors and members of the public is palpable.”
The society has asked for written confirmation that council planning officers accept – and will advise councillors – that its representations do accord with Government policy, should not be denigrated in any way and will be seriously considered.
Yesterday Mr Sher said the NEPG believed officers’ attitude towards wind energy was too favourable. “We have engaged in this consultation exercise with great diligence and at great expense, and have commissioned reports from professionals and experts.
“We have reliable information that councillors have been advised that our representations and concerns don’t accord with Government policy, which frankly we don’t believe.
“We are asking for confirmation that our views will be seriously considered, and are not out of sync with policy.”
Karen Ledger, the council’s head of development services, said the preparation of the Core Strategy was taking place in a “wholly open and transparent manner”.
“All comments received are being considered by the council, including those relating to wind energy issues, and they will be used to inform the preparation of the preferred options document that will be published for consultation in February,” she said.
The council’s Labour group leader, Grant Davey, has asked for an independent review of the planning process to ensure that people have confidence that decisions are being reached properly.
He said: “We’ve got motions by the Tories which sought to impose decisions on planning committee which would have been against the law, and concerns being raised by independent bodies such as the Northumberland and Newcastle Society. The Labour group has expressed concerns over the way planning decision-making is being conducted.”