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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Windfarm firm loses appeal against planning refusal

OPPONENTS of the controversial Weddicar Rigg windfarm proposal were rejoicing this week after news came in that an appeal against its planning refusal had been dismissed.

After months of deliberation, the government planning inspector who heard six days of argument for and against the six-turbine wind-farm decided that the adverse impacts of it on the landscape of the area would significantly outweigh any benefit.

A decision had been delayed while the government’s new policy on onshore wind turbines was being adopted.

The controversial £17m windfarm, proposed by Banks Renewables, became the subject of a planning appeal held in July after Copeland councillors twice turned down the plan, despite a recommendation from its own officers to give their approval. This week’s decision has upheld the councillors’ refusal.

Councillors felt the adverse effects of six 155m high turbines would outweigh any benefits and now the Secretary of State has agreed. The windfarm company’s appeal has been dismissed.

Banks find the decision “exceptionally disappointing that the Secretary of State has now chosen to rule against our appeal and to disregard the considerable range of immediate and long-term benefits that this scheme would bring to the area, alongside the generation of substantial amounts of renewable energy”.

They say they will carefully examine the reasons behind the ruling before deciding any future course of action.

The inspector Robert Mellor’s recommendation, and the Secretary of State Eric Pickles’ response drew heavily on new planning guidance for on shore wind turbine and other renewable energy sources, that has been established by the Government since the decision of the Council to refuse planning permission, in October last year.

Mr Mellor, considered the windfarm proposal would be in conflict with the Copeland development plan and “would cause significant adverse harm to landscape character” both in its own right and cumulatively with the Fairfield Farm windfarm, which is less that a kilometre to the north of the site and the Watch Hill turbine.

“My overall conclusion and recommendation is thus that the appeal should be dismissed,” he added.

Copeland Council has welcomed the decision by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles’ decision to agree with Mr Mellor’s recommendation. The bid for costs to be awarded against the council was also rejected.

John Groves, Copeland Council’s head of nuclear, energy and planning, said, “We welcome this decision, which clearly reflects the considerable effort to ensure that a robust case was put forward, in support of the views of councillors and the communities which they represent.

“It is clear that there has been a shift in the government’s planning policy position in relation to in-land wind turbines, and this is reflected in the Secretary of State’s decision and the reasoning behind this decision. The changes in national policy would clearly be taken into account if a similar application were to be considered today.”

The Weddicar Rigg appeal was one of a number of other planning appeals for wind turbines across the country that were called in by the Secretary of State for decision, again reflecting changes in the approach and policy applied to this type of development which is now in place.

Copeland Borough Council’s planning panel refused permission for a windfarm consisting of six wind turbines, control building, anemometer mast and associated access tracks for an operational period of 25 years, at its meeting of October 17, 2012. The Weddicar Rigg windfarm was to be located on agricultural land around three kilometres to the east of Whitehaven.

Phil Dyke, development director at Banks Renewables, said: “We have always firmly believed that the Weddicar Rigg wind farm is a well designed and sensibly located scheme. Copeland’s planning officers were extremely clear in recognising the strengths and merits of our application when recommending it for approval to their committee.

“Dozens of new jobs, contract tender opportunities for local firms worth up to £3.5m, new training provisions for scores of local young people, substantive measures to tackle fuel poverty across the area and around £750,000 of funding for community and environmental improvement projects are all central to the proposal we submitted.

“We’re very grateful for the support that we’ve had from many local people and organisations for the Weddicar Rigg windfarm. We will now carefully examine the reasons behind this ruling before deciding on the most suitable course of future action.”

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