THE Duke of Northumberland has stoked up the fierce debate over wind energy development in the North East by launching a withering attack on the impact of massive turbines on the region’s unspoiled countryside.
In a personal intervention which will delight wind farm opponents, the Duke has branded turbines as "ugly, noisy and completely out of place in our beautiful, historic landscape".
He reveals he has rejected approaches to put turbines on land owned by his own Northumberland Estates business wing – and says the structures are divisive, unreliable and potentially damaging to the vital tourism industry.
The Duke – who has an estimated personal fortune of £300m and owns 100,000 acres of land and more than 100 tenanted farms in the region – made his comments after being accused in The Journal’s letters pages of being silent on the issue of wind farms.
He has gone public via The Journal amid fears that local moorlands and hills could be carpeted by up to 250 wind turbines if plans by green energy developers win approval in the next few years.
The 12th Duke, whose family is celebrating 700 years at its ancestral home, Alnwick Castle, says he and his forebears have opened quarries and mines and built offices, schools, supermarkets and houses – some of which he admits have provoked local opposition.
He says he has privately stated his opposition to wind farm developments, and personally written to councillors to make his position clear.
"There are no wind farms on my family estate and I have repelled all requests to apply for them. I have studied the debate, arguments and statistics and come to the personal conclusion that wind farms divide communities, ruin landscapes, affect tourism, make a minimal contribution to our energy needs and a negligible contribution towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
"The landowner and developer are enriched, while the consumer is impoverished by higher energy costs. Turbines are ugly, noisy and completely out of place in our beautiful, historic landscape."
The Duke dismisses suggestions that he is an influential voice on the issue, but adds: "If my personal opinion has any effect on diminishing the threat from vast industrial machines in our landscape, I will be delighted."
Two years ago bosses at the Alnwick Garden tourist attraction – which was the brainchild of the Duchess of Northumberland – were among the leading objectors to plans to build 18 turbines, each 125 metres high, at Middlemoor, north of Alnwick.
Yesterday Nick Blezard, from the Save Northumberland’s Environment (SANE) group, which opposed wind farms at Middlemoor and Wandylaw, welcomed the Duke’s comments. "Obviously SANE thoroughly applauds and is very grateful for his support, and cannot help but completely agree with what he is saying.
"It stands to reason that someone who lives in Northumberland and the Borders, and parts of whose businesses rely very much on tourism, would take this stance. I am sure his comments are helpful because he is a very influential person, as is the Duchess, and owns considerable tracts of land.
"It is interesting that none of the wind farms being proposed are on land owned by the Duke. He could make a lot of money from wind turbines but he is clearly a lover of the countryside and doesn’t want these things."
The wind energy industry was last night defended by Stephen Hannay, project director for Novera Energy which wants to erect 10 giant turbines at Wingates and Todd Hill near Morpeth. He said: "Wind is a reliable, proven technology and the Government has set a binding commitment to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.
"Given the number of constraints across Northumberland, due to military and civil aviation, nationally important landscapes and sites of historical or ecological importance, it is unlikely there will be a proliferation of wind farms in one given area – and most parts of the county are off limits to wind development.
"However, with the national need for the development of renewables we believe that Todd Hill and Wingates currently represent two of the best local examples of acceptable and deliverable development."
The Government has made a commitment to cut the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, with a target of generating 15% of all energy from renewables by 2020. Northumberland has a minimum target of 212 megawatts of renewable generation by 2010 – but is unlikely to achieve more than 40 megawatts of installed capacity by the end of next year.
Page 2 - The Duke's letter in full >>
The Duke's letter in full
R CURRAN asks (The Journal letters 25th November) why I am silent on the wind farm issue.
As I and my forebears have opened quarries and mines, built offices, schools and supermarkets, a considerable number of houses and been involved in a wide range of other developments which occasionally provoke local opposition, I could stand accused of double standards if I became publicly involved in the wind farm debate in our region.
However, I have privately stated my opposition and personally written to councillors to state that opposition. There are no wind farms on my family estate and I have repelled all requests to apply for them.
I have studied the debate, arguments and statistics and come to the personal conclusion that wind farms divide communities, ruin landscapes, affect tourism, make a minimal contribution to our energy needs and a negligible contribution towards reducing CO2 emissions.
The landowner and developer are enriched while the consumer is impoverished by higher energy costs.
Turbines are ugly, noisy and completely out of place in our beautiful, historic landscape.
Their requirement for vast amounts of concrete and, in some cases, the destruction of large areas of peat add significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere so that it takes many years for them to provide a real benefit.
They generate intermittently, require back-up from traditional or nuclear power and, in some of our most beautiful countryside, necessitate the erection of many miles of large pylons and high capacity lines.
As I am a private, unelected and relatively apolitical individual, Mr Curran’s view that I am the most influential voice in Northumberland is somewhat unrealistic. However, if my personal opinion has any effect on diminishing the threat from vast industrial machines in our landscape, I will be delighted.
Duke of Northumberland
Page 3 - Where the turbines are now – and where they could be soon >>
Where the turbines are now – and where they could be soon
NORTHUMBERLAND currently has three operational wind farms at Kirkheaton, Blyth Harbour and Blyth offshore, comprising a total of 14 turbines.
However, schemes in the pipeline will vastly expand that total.
Five other schemes have been given planning approval but are not yet built, at Middlemoor near Alnwick (18), the Alcan smelter at Lynemouth (13), Bewick Drift in Lynemouth (3), Wandylaw near Ellingham (10) and Kiln Pit Hill near the A68 (6).
Final decisions are awaited on a further six schemes at Green Rigg near Birtley, Ray and Steadings near Kirkwhelpington, and Moorsyde, Barmoor and Toft Hill near Berwick. They comprise a further 76 turbines.
In addition, a further 25 sites are either the subject of planning applications or are being ‘scoped’ by developers. These include Kirkharle, Plenmeller, Longhorsley, Longhirst, Netherwitton, Wingates, Ancroft and Pigdon. Between them they comprise scores more turbines.
County Durham has a number of operational wind farms, comprising more than 40 turbines, at sites including West Durham, Tow Law, Great Eppleton, Langley Park, Broom Hill at Sunnyside and High Hedley.
Proposals currently in the pipeline include controversial bids for seven turbines near the hamlet of Bolam, West Auckland and up to 13 at Windy Banks near Bishop Auckland.
Page 4 - Region to host talks on wind farm strategy >>
Region to host talks on wind farm strategy
WIND farm development in the North East is to be debated at a conference in the region.
Natural England is to host the event early next year which will provide a forum for leaders of industry, planning authorities and other interested organisations to discuss issues relating to turbines.
Natural England regional director for the North East Rob Aubrook said: "We need to make space for new renewable energy sources in the North East, but at the moment applications for new wind farms are generally being responded to on a case by case basis.
"By bringing the various interest groups together I’m sure we can move towards developing a much more strategic approach as to which local environments can support which type of renewable energy, and examine what the cumulative impact of onshore wind farms are on landscapes."
The conference has been welcomed by Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield, who said: "I am delighted that Natural England has agreed to host this meeting and it is a very welcome step in the right direction.
"It is vital that the various interest groups sit down together and look at a strategic approach to where wind farms should be located.
" We all need to play our part in keeping climate change at bay and I’m not against wind farms altogether, but I am concerned about the cumulative impact on the landscape. This event will give all those involved an opportunity to influence the region’s strategic approach to future wind farm developments."
Mr Aubrook said: "Natural England is already working with industry, local government, the environment sector and local communities to help take us further forward along the road to a low-carbon future.
"We welcome the opportunity to host and facilitate this meeting to improve understanding between the various interest groups."