Anti-wind campaigners living in the Northumberland countryside are celebrating after council chiefs went back on plans to scrap greenbelt protection around their homes.
People living in communities around Morpeth who have fought wind turbine development are delighted after bosses at Northumberland County Council changed their mind on proposals to remove protective greenbelt status from land in their area.
Residents say the planned designation effectively shuts the door to any wind developers interested in pursuing schemes in the area - with it having been cited by a senior minister who rejected plans for five turbines there, at Fenrother.
The defined greenbelt around Morpeth originally covered areas south and east of the town. An extension to the greenbelt around the town was identified in the 1996 Northumberland Structure Plan, with a revised version in 2005 defining plans to expand it west of Netherwitton, Hartburn and Belsay, and north of Longhorsley.
The review of the Castle Morpeth Local Plan was not adopted before local government reorganisation in 2009, however, and in February last year, Northumberland County Council began consultation on its core strategy.
In proposals released by the authority for consultation last October, the expansion of the greenbelt around Morpeth was reduced.
It removed from the proposed greenbelt extension a number of locations where wind farms had been proposed including land near Rayburn Lake, between Wingates and Netherwitton, and Fenrother.
The omission of Fenrother was despite the county council arguing at a public inquiry into the turbine project last August that it should not be allowed given that the site was within the proposed extended greenbelt.
Campaigners at the time questioned why the sites had been omitted, labelling the move “suspicious.” They claimed the absence of greenbelt status could open up the area for more wind farms to be sited.
Since then both the Fenrother and Rayburn Lake proposals have been refused, with the greenbelt status having been cited by Eric Pickles when turning down the former.
After that decision, the council said it welcomed the minister’s conclusions “on the overall policy approach to renewable energy development in the greenbelt.”
Now, the authority has reverted to the 2005 extension in the latest version of the core strategy, meaning the Fenrother and Rayburn Lake sites among others are back within the proposed greenbelt extension.
A spokeswoman explained: “Through the core strategy we are required to define the detailed outer boundary of the greebelt around Morpeth.
“We consulted on different options for the outer boundary in the last consultation and there was a lot of objection from local communities to the preferred tighter boundary.
“Objectors did not consider the council had demonstrated ‘exceptional circumstances’ (as required by NPPF – national planning policy) to amend the boundary from that described within adopted structure plan policy.
“As a result of the objections, the council undertook further work assessing development pressure in the area – this identified that there is not significant development pressure, therefore the council does not consider it can demonstrate ‘exceptional circumstances’ to amend the boundary.”
Dr James Lunn, who led an action group which fought the Fenrother scheme, said the council’s proposals, if adopted, would mean an array of sites once threatened by wind development in the area being protected by greenbelt status.
“It puts to bed any threat of wind farm development at Fenrother. The council have put it to bed once and for all.
“We could not be happier. There is not a cat in hell’s chance they will even be able to apply for even a single turbine.
“It is a victory for common sense more than anything.”