Legal Challenge made to Windfarm Appeal Decision

This is the impact which the proposed turbines would have on the view of the village from the Old Windmill. The government inspector concluded that they would become a key feature in views of Sulgrave, at odds with the scale of the settlement and the prominence of the church tower. Nevertheless her decision was that the “wider environmental benefits of the proposal” outweighed this and the many other disadvantages of the scheme and that Broadview’s appeal against the refusal of planning permission should be allowed. A legal challenge to this decision has now been lodged by South Northants District Council and the Helmdon Stuchbury and Greatworth Windfarm Action Group is seeking funds to make its own challenge.

Those who visited the various exhibitions staged by Broadview before the application for planning permission will recall that the company’s depictions of the visual impact of the proposed turbines were woefully inadequate. The Helmdon Stuchbury and Greatworth Windfarm Action Group spent a great deal of time and money in producing realistic photo montages, especially from locations totally overlooked by the company. These formed the basis of evidence given by the Council and indeed by the many courageous witnesses from Greatworth, Helmdon and Sulgrave. The Inspector visited every viewpoint and walked every footpath, accompanied by many of these witnesses. She accepted that the impact on our countryside, our villages, our many ancient buildings and indeed, the closest of our homes, would be as we indicated. During the walks, the countryside could hardly have looked more beautiful and the atmosphere could not have been more tranquil, as she herself noted on more than one occasion.

All of these impacts and disadvantages were acknowledged in her report. She said that the turbines would become a dominant feature with adverse impacts on the small scale landscape. She said that they would contrast harmfully with the Helmdon viaduct over which they would visually dominate and tower. She said that they would become a key feature in views of Sulgrave, at odds with the scale of the settlement and the prominence of the church tower. She said that for those using our many footpaths the moving blades would be a marked distraction alien to the rural character and that the peaceful tranquillity which she had noted would change. Above all, she said that for the Tims family at Stuchbury the turbines would be unpleasantly imposing and pervasive to their lives at their house and when working the surrounding land.

Any reasonable person reading this would be entitled to conclude that she had decided that the site was completely wrong for wind turbines of this scale and that she was going to dismiss the appeal. Why, therefore, in what seems to be a totally illogical and perverse decision, did she conclude that the appeal should be allowed? Given that pages of her report are devoted to detailing the disadvantages of the proposal one might have expected a similarly detailed explanation of how she concluded that the advantages outweighed them. Instead we simply find the bold statement that “…the totality of the impact of the proposal…….is not sufficient to outweigh the wider economic and environmental benefits of the proposal.

Unfortunately, in its determination to be seen to pursue a green agenda, the government has directed that inspectors are not to question the assumption that wind turbines are the right answer to the carbon free generation of electricity nor are they allowed to address the negligible savings of carbon dioxide attributable to a scheme such as this one.

In setting out her findings, therefore, the Inspector had no need to say why she had concluded that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. However, she is required by law to say how she reached the decision, that is to say, what process did she follow.

Lawyers acting for South Northants Council have carefully considered the Inspector’s report and have advised the Council that there are grounds for a legal challenge on the basis that the process she followed was incorrect in law. Principally, they consider that she did not properly apply all the relevant plans and policies designed to protect the countryside, avoid harm to important heritage assets and so on.

On behalf of the Action Group, an eminent barrister has reached the same conclusion and indeed considers that there are further grounds for a challenge not available to the Council. For example, the Council did not contest the appeal on the grounds of noise impacts on neighbouring properties. It can be argued that the Inspector adhered far too strictly to outdated standards in this respect. In order to pursue this challenge it is necessary for a named person aggrieved by the decision to apply to the High Court for it to be set aside. Veronica Ward has courageously volunteered to be that person and will thus be representing all of the many people opposed to the scheme.

There is, of course, no certainty that the outcome of these challenges will be favourable and an unfavourable verdict could lead to the imposition of considerable costs. There should be no illusions as to the scale of the task and the sums of money needed to ensure that Veronica is not financially penalised. However, this really is “the last throw of the dice”, after which there will be absolutely nothing to prevent the turbines being built.

The Helmdon Stuchbury and Greatworth Windfarm Action Group is therefore in the midst of a fund raising campaign and is seeking donations from the local community which can be as small or large as people feel able to make. The Group appreciates that many people have already contributed generously. It is not easy to ask for more support but the Group believes that this is a fight which must be contested until the bitter end.

Those wishing to contribute are asked to contact Action Group treasurer, Geraldine Neuhoff at:gerryneuhoff@btinternet.com

More details of the Inspector’s decision to allow the appeal.

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