Absence of clarity leading to total case by case chaos
Hardly a day goes by at the moment without a communication arriving at Western Morning News headquarters from some far flung community in the South West about renewable energy. Telephone calls, e-mails and scores of hand written letters pour in expressing a wide array of feelings over schemes normally close to the author's home.
Whether it be solar panels or wind turbines – on or offshore – schemes to generate new forms of energy have got many rural people's goat.
No doubt with an eye on rural votes the Government – which has been eager to talk up its understanding of the countryside – announced new planning guidelines this summer which at face value put the renewables ball firmly back in the court of local communities.
The guidelines clearly stated that "the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections or the planning concerns of local communities". Residents cheered. At the time the Western Morning News urged communities to use the new power wisely. The Westcountry cannot in general afford to say a blanket "no" to renewables, but the balance between generating sustainable energy and preserving the west's beautiful landscape is one that must be found. That is why this newspaper has consistently called for a clear green strategy to avoid the case by case chaos that currently exists.
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A few months on and some communities are beginning to feel they are still being ignored.
So West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox has launched a parliamentary probe into the impact of the recent guidance on renewable and low carbon energy.
He fears the voice of local people still is not being heard and has asked for an accurate assessment of the effect of the guidelines, and for them to be strengthened. "Local communities have felt powerless to say no to these developments and although it was hoped the new guidance would go some way to addressing this, it appears this has not been sufficiently the case," he said.
His efforts will be much appreciated by many of his constituents.
But clarity around where wind or solar farms should be built is still non-existent, hence repeated calls for a clear national strategy.
Not having one is merely a recipe for more conflict and more costly planning appeals and legal challenges in the future.