Plan to fix gap between wind farms and homes
A Westcountry council could be on course for a costly showdown with powerful energy companies as moves begin to prevent wind farms being built near homes and beauty spots.
Councillors in Cornwall are pushing to become only the second local authority in the country to create buffer zones around residential properties and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
Fury over the number of applications for permission to erect turbines has prompted campaigners to consider fielding single-issue candidates in local elections.
Opponents of the technology say generous government subsidies have encouraged a rash of schemes in unsuitable locations and claim local authorities lack a coherent policy to prevent large plants being imposed on communities.
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Planning experts battling to halt developers say the idea of council policy setting a minimum distance from plants will be tested by a legal case next year. They say a judicial review of Milton Keynes Council's decision to create a separation zone of 2km between turbines and homes could be a landmark.
Scott Mann, councillor for Wadebridge and former deputy leader of the ruling Conservative group, said there was "no time to wait" for the case to be resolved.
He called for a one-mile exclusion zone for homes and a two-mile minimum distance to AONBs to be enshrined in the council's strategic plan for the next 20 years.
"If we write a woolly document which says very little about where we want turbines located, we lay ourselves open to having them everywhere," he said.
"If the inspector says that is unacceptable then I am prepared to test the policy to destruction – I have a lot of support in my own group and other members are now saying I am on the right track."
So far, no council in the South West has imposed a buffer zone – permission for schemes hinges on whether an individual turbine meets the so-called Lavender test, named after a ruling by planner David Lavender at a public inquiry.
He said turbines should be refused only if they "represent an unpleasantly overwhelming and unavoidable presence" in main views from a house or garden.
But only if the property becomes "widely regarded as an unattractive and unsatisfactory place to live" should a scheme be rejected.
A recent report by industry body Regen South urged councils not to bow to pressure to create buffer zones. It said policies that put "whole areas of land off limits" without assessing specific local circumstances were in conflict with national policy and could "result in communities losing out on the chance to host their own turbines".
Bob Barfoot, North Devon chairman for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), is assisting with a High Court challenge to nine turbines at Batsworthy Cross. He regards the Lavender test as "too extreme" and thinks the distance has got to depend on the size of the turbine and other factors such as topography. But he thinks it is prudent to await the High Court decision in the case between RWE npower renewables and Milton Keynes Council.
"Nobody has got a clue how it (the judicial review) is going to go but if one council manages it then all the rest will follow," he said.
Cornwall Council's planning policy panel will discuss the issue next month before a full council debate.
Councillor Mann said the move had been prompted by complaints from constituents outside the "usual anti-wind turbine brigade".
"I am getting calls from people who have never objected to wind turbines in their life," he added. "We need to get a handle on this and I will be pushing to have something included."