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By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Monday, April 30, 2012
A growing “proliferation” of onshore wind turbines threatens to damage valued landscapes and intrude into some of the most tranquil areas of East Anglia, according to a new report.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has published a study today which highlights an exponential growth in wind energy applications and calls for a locally-accountable, strategically-planned overview from the government.
Across England, the CPRE says there were 685 wind turbines of 30m or taller either completed, in construction, or awaiting approval in 2008 – a figure which it claims had risen to 1,831 by 2010 and to more than 4,100 by March 2012.
But industry association RenewableUK said the concerns were “misplaced” as its statistics show only 1,826 onshore turbines were currently planned across the country, with stringent environmental safeguards already embedded in the planning system.
In Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, there are 146 operational turbines, with 124 approved, seven under construction and another 94 in planning.
James Parry, chairman of CPRE Norfolk, said: “Nobody would dispute the need to explore new sources of renewable energy, but what we have seen is a proliferation of wind turbines which nobody ever imagined, with more to come.
“There is no doubt that the cumulative effect of those already built is having a serious impact on landscapes which are greatly cherished by local people. The time has come for the government and planning authorities to listen to the public on this issue and pay proper attention to the loss of landscape character and tranquillity that wind turbines can provoke.”
The report cites two controversial turbines at Weston Longville, near Lenwade, as an example of planning inspectors “using the lifetime of onshore wind proposals as a justification for granting permissions.”
The application by Bernard Matthews to build the 125m structures on a former airfield was initially refused by Broadland District Council amid vociferous local opposition, but a government inspector overturned the decision in February.
The report says the application was approved “because he determined that the 25-year permission made the structure temporary, at least in landscape terms. This is not a satisfactory approach.”
Among the recommendations of the report is that developers should adopt legally-binding safeguards to ensure onshore turbines are dismantled once they reach the end of their useful life.
The report, named Generating Light on Landscape Impacts, also calls on the government to provide clarity on the number and location of onshore wind turbines it expects to see built, and to ensure councils protect landscape character through their local plans.
Dr Gordon Edge, RenewableUK’s director of policy, said: “The biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change.
“Striking a balance between our need for renewable energy to help combat climate change, while also protecting the landscape we all cherish, is the role of our planning system.
“The CPRE claims that more layers of bureaucracy are needed in the planning process, but the current planning system already rightly provides environmental safeguards which are among the most stringent in the world.”
Dr Edge also pointed to a recent Ipsos Mori opinion poll which showed 62pc of rural residents found the visual impact of wind turbines acceptable.