A decision by a Cabinet minister to take personal charge of a controversial application for a wind farm has been hailed as a breakthrough by campaigners.
They described the decision by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to give himself the final say on the application for five turbines at Fenrother, near Morpeth, as “Christmas come early.”
In the summer Mr Pickles announced that he was changing planning guidance on onshore wind applications to ensure that the concerns of local people would be given proper weight.
Last week he said that some appeals by energy companies against refusal of plans for turbines would go to him for a final decision, to make sure his new guidelines were being followed.
Energiekontor UK Ltd’s appeal relating to its bid for five 126m turbines at Fenrotheris among the first schemes that he has pulled back for his personal attention.
The news was last night welcomed by campaigners fighting the Fenrother scheme, who claimed it not only increased their chances of success but also gave hope to others opposed to wind farm developments.
Energiekontor said the decision would delay the decision on its project while a renewable energy trade association said it was “unsure” why there is a need for more plans to be “recovered” by ministers.
The Fenrother scheme was thrown out by Northumberland County Council’s planning and environment committee in January.
A local action group set up to oppose the scheme had submitted a 71,000-word objection document, which was backed by more than 1,600 letters.
Two local parish councils, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Northumberland National Park, Morpeth Civic Society and the Northumberland Badger Group also objected.
The developer then appealed and a public inquiry has since been conducted by a government planning inspector.
Mr Pickles’ office has revealed that the inspector will submit a recommendation to the minister, who will have the final say.
The new guidance seeks “to help ensure the planning concerns raised by local communities are given proper weight in planning decisions on onshore renewable energy.”
Mr Pickles said: “I want to give particular scrutiny to planning appeals involving renewable energy developments so that I can consider the extent to which the new practice guidance is meeting the government’s intentions.
“To this end, I am hereby revising the appeals recovery criteria and will consider for recovery appeals for renewable energy developments.”
Last night, Dr James Lunn, of the Fenrother action group, said: “It is Christmas come early for Fenrother.
“We could not be happier.”
He voiced delight that the decision would be made by Mr Pickles saying: “He is the strong advocate of communities being heard and concerns being addressed.”
The minister has previously stated that green belt around Morpeth, including Fenrother, should continue to be designated as such until the county council’s new planning core strategy is finalised.
Dr Lunn added: “We could not be happier that the man who stood up in parliament and said it should be green belt is going to decide on the wind farm.”
He said the fact more appeals will be recovered by the minister has been “warmly welcomed by everyone I have spoken to.”
Sam Dewar, Energiekontor’s Fenrother project manager, said the recovery would delay a decision on the appeal, which he called “disappointing,” but added he remained “confident” of success.
“Whilst it was a surprise, we cannot be aggrieved. It is a process we have to go through.”
RenewableUK’s director of external affairs, Jennifer Webber, said: “Developers are keen to work with communities to ensure their projects are in suitable areas, and that’s why we’ve seen local consent rates rise in England over the last couple of years.
“However, it’s also important that decisions are made quickly, and based on firm principles of planning, and we’re unsure why there’s a need for more recoveries from the planning inspectorate, who now have clear guidelines to help them make decisions.”