A DIRECT plea is being made to the Government for a change in national policy on wind farms amid growing concerns over the number of giant turbines being given the green light in Northumberland.
Conservative county councillors are writing to energy minister Charles Hendry calling for the views of local people and their elected representatives to be paramount when decisions are taken on new wind farm applications.
The Tories say local residents should have the “final and determining” say on how many wind turbines are built, and where.
The move comes a month after a Conservative call for an urgent public consultation on wind energy development in Northumberland was rejected by Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.
Northumberland currently has 27 operational turbines, 24 are under construction, a further 74 have been approved and 52 are either in the planning system or being scoped – giving a potential total of 177.
The letter to Mr Hendry says energy secretary Ed Davey said in March that the country is now on course to meet national carbon reduction targets for 2020.
It says the need to hit renewable targets has been used by Northumberland planning officers to justify the approval of wind farms, often overriding “strong and cogent” arguments against the developments by local residents.
“Now that central Government has realised that the UK has enough onshore wind capacity in the planning system...we must now change the way we look upon renewable energy planning applications.
“Many residents in Northumberland feel that our county has already taken more than its fair share of onshore wind farm applications, and they are concerned at the levels of subsidy paid to developers at a time when parts of the county are experiencing the highest levels of fuel poverty anywhere in the UK.
“There is a perceived lack of sensitivity around issues such as separation distances from homes, economic impact on house prices and tourism, health risks and the cumulative effect that these developments are having on the county’s environment and its economic well-being.
“Local people feel that their voice has not been heard in this debate. We need Government to return the final decision on future wind turbine applications to locally accountable councillors,” it adds.
Yesterday Glen Sanderson, deputy leader of the Tory group on the county council, said: “We are calling for local people to have the final and determining say on how many wind turbines are built and where they go.
“Planning decisions relating to turbines are currently being distorted in two ways, by national targets for carbon reduction and by government subsidies paid to turbine developers.
“It is time to think again about a national policy context that is proving to be a blunt tool for the important task of encouraging renewable energy. Planning policy must become more locally responsive by returning the final say to elected councillors and residents.”
Future wind energy strategy in Northumberland will be debated as part of a public consultation which will start soon on the county’s major new policy blueprint.
Tomorrow the executive is expected to approve a consultation draft setting out core strategies and options for a new Local Development Framework.
A spokesman for Renewable UK, which represents wind energy companies, said the planning system already factors in the impact of existing wind farms when assessing applications for new ones. “We should continue to assess each wind farm on a case by case basis,” he added.