Wind turbine

Wind turbine numbers soar

Countryside campaigners have criticised the increasing numbers of wind turbines across "valued" landscapes.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said that in 2008 there were 685 turbines more than 30 metres high (100ft) built, in construction or awaiting approval in the countryside.

The number had soared to more than 4,100 by March this year - a figure which does not include turbines smaller than 30 metres - CPRE claimed.

"CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK's carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations," said chief executive Shaun Spiers.

"Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change."

The campaigners are concerned that some parts of the country are being overrun with wind farms, the cumulative effect of which is ruining the countryside in areas such as Cornwall and County Durham.

The CPRE also said protected areas such as National Parks are ending up ringed with turbines in the surrounding countryside, damaging the valued landscapes which have been conserved.

The organisation said it was not against wind farms per se, acknowledging that climate change must be tackled and that wind power should be part of the energy mix.

But it raised concerns that local communities in some areas were struggling to cope with a stream of applications for developments and that the industry had a dismissive attitude to concerns raised during the planning process.

The rise in applications comes as local authorities are cutting back on planning funding, leading to fears planners are not able to cope with often-controversial proposals.

And the CPRE said wind developments often grouped in certain areas, perhaps where they were more likely to get the go-ahead, with the effect that the landscape was damaged by a large concentration of turbines.

The CPRE is calling for more clarity from the Government about the total number of onshore wind farm it expects to see built and where they might go.

It also wants to see a more strategic "plan-led" approach which recognises how many turbines an area's landscape can accommodate without being damaged and looks at the cumulative effects of wind farms.

Planning authorities should protect the character of landscapes through local plans and in their planning decisions, while the industry should be obliged to decommission turbines and restore the countryside once farms are shut down, the CPRE urged.

Spiers said it was right that the countryside should play its part in supplying renewable energy, but warned there was a need to reconcile measures to tackle global warming with protecting the landscape.

"Otherwise we will sacrifice the beauty and tranquillity of much-loved landscapes for at least a generation," he said.

He added that despite the Government's rhetoric on localism, the "industrialisation of valued countryside" was happening as a result of Whitehall policies.

"The Government must take responsibility and set out far more clearly a framework for meeting the country's energy needs while protecting our matchless countryside," he urged.

Despite CPRE's concerns, a recent poll showed two-thirds of people supported the use of wind power, and a majority (57 per cent) thought the look of wind farms on the landscape was "acceptable".

A fifth (20 per cent) found them "completely acceptable".

"It's not surprising that wind power enjoys the backing of two thirds of the population - the clean energy it produces is essential for reducing our reliance on expensive fossil fuels and tackling rocketing fuel bills," said Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton.

"Wind turbines should always be sensitively sited, but one of the biggest threats to our countryside is climate change - and this is exactly what wind power can help defeat.

"It's time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money."

Industry body RenewableUK said only 1,826 turbines were planned for England at present, and 8,581 for the UK as a whole.

"Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy." said the organisation's director of policy, Dr Gordon Edge.

"It's clear that only some locations are suitable for wind, but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing."

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