MP's new bid to give locals a greater say over turbines
Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, on why he will fight the proliferation of giant wind turbines.
As MP for Torridge and West Devon I have long made clear my objections to giant commercial wind turbines. At my constituency surgeries they are a predominant concern to local people and the strength of feeling they evoke is significant.
In the past I have argued that small and unobtrusive wind turbines ought to be tolerated, for example to power a local business or a farm, where they are supported by the local community and bring much needed extra energy and revenue to an area. However, when local communities come together to object to large and prominent structures being erected, often close to the dwellings of those who never dreamed they might have to face such industrial installations on their doorstep, I have always offered my support.
Over time, I have become increasingly concerned that wind turbines are beginning to dominate the Torridge and Northern Devon landscape. As rural communities, we depend on the unspoiled nature of our landscape for its appeal to tourism, yet by allowing these industrial constructions to be built near our homes and businesses, I believe we are taking a reckless gamble with our local economy.
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A better balance must be struck between ensuring an affordable energy supply, maintaining the integrity of our prized landscapes and cutting carbon emissions.
With this in mind, in 2012 I was one of over 100 Conservative MPs who wrote to the Prime Minister urging the halt of the policy of expanding the use of onshore wind turbines set by the former Secretary of State Chris Huhne MP. I also lobbied the government to cut the hugely generous subsidies set by Labour by 25%. Regrettably, our coalition partners only agreed to a 10% reduction. Another effort is now being made within the Government to agree a more realistic burden for energy consumers to bear. I very much hope that it will bear fruit.
While, as an MP, I have no power over the planning process, earlier this year I announced that I shall register a personal objection to every single commercial wind turbine application in my constituency of which I am advised, where the height is over 75 metres and does not have the support of the surrounding community.
I took this decision because, with dozens of applications for turbines pending in Torridge alone, I felt we had reached a tipping point and it was important that attention should be drawn to the growing threat. No longer is this just an issue for any individual parish, it is an issue for all of us, wherever we live. The cumulative effect of so many wind turbines will fundamentally change the character of the countryside in which we live, dominating it for miles around and permanently altering and industrialising its appearance. I believe we must protect this unique and historic area.
Unfortunately one of the biggest obstacles to doing so is the current lack of balance between developers, planning authorities and local communities. People have felt powerless to say no to these developments, often feeling forced into having wind farms built in their community, which threaten their tranquillity, peace of mind and quality of life.
It was my hope that the Planning Practice Guidance for Renewable and Low Carbon Energy announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government in June this year would improve this balance in favour of local communities. However, while it has made clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities, it is apparent that significant confusion exists in the interpretation of the document within some local councils.
Therefore, with the goal of obtaining more specific guidance that will not give rise to such problems of interpretation, I have now tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions, asking the Secretary of State to look into this matter again. In particular, I am asking him to make the necessary amendments to strengthen the protection of our unique landscape and to give communities a greater say over the decisions.
Protecting the unspoiled beauty of Torridge and West Devon and its communities from the proliferation of giant wind turbines is a cause that I will not cease to fight; it is a cause very much worth fighting.