Decision day for giant wind farm

Joseph Bulmer

Batsworthy proposals due to be debated by North Devon Council today

IT’S been open for barely two weeks; but today (Wednesday) Bishops Nympton’s brand new village hall will play host to one of the region’s most long-running and controversial planning debates.

Nearly six years after proposals were first announced, North Devon Council is set to determine plans for nine giant wind turbines at Batsworthy Cross, near South Molton.

And in a gesture that hints at the magnitude of the decision, members will leave the sanctuary of the Civic Centre to consider the development in one of the villages that would fall under its shadow.

The application by RWE npower renewables is being recommended for approval by council planning offices but the elected committee will be asked to examine pages of evidence for and against the development before coming to a conclusion.

Each of the generators would be a maximum 103metres tall from base to tip. By comparison, the 22 turbines currently being built at Fullabrook Down near Barnstaple are 110m, while the three recently installed generators at Higher Darracott near Torrington stand at 75m.

The proposal also comprises transformer enclosures, substation buildings, an anemometer and access racks.

The developer says the 13.5megawatt to 22.5mw capacity site would produce enough electricity to meet the average annual electricity demand of between 6,500 and 10,900 homes – equal to around a quarter of all the homes across North Devon.

But opponents have waged a bitter war against the wind farm, with the development’s impact on the surrounding landscape – and in particular the neighbouring Exmoor National Park – featuring high on a long list of objections.

To date, 660 people have submitted letters of objection, while 111 letters have been sent in support of the plans.

Among the consultees which objected to the application were English Heritage, which raised “strong reservations” about the impact of the proposal on the historic environment.

Exmoor National Park Authority also objected to the proposal due to its “adverse impact on landscape, setting and special qualities” of the park. It said the proposal would “erode the sense of remoteness, wildness, openness and freedom from visible human architects which is recognised among the special qualities of the area”.

Others opposed included the Exmoor Society; Mid Devon District Council; and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Parish councils in the immediate area – including South Molton Town Council – almost unanimously rejected the proposals.

Planning permission for two wind farm developments at neighbouring Three Moors and Bickham Moor was rejected at a public inquiry concluded in January last year.

Planning Inspector Philip Major dismissed the appeals by Airtricity and Coronation Power due to the proposed turbines’ impact on the character of the area, in particular, the Exmoor National Park.

“The substantial harm to the landscape and to the setting of Exmoor resulting from the extensive nature of the development proposed is such that it outweighs all other considerations,” said Mr Major.

But in what he called a “finely balanced decision” Mr Major said his ruling did not mean that other proposals in the area would be unacceptable.

An outstanding proposal for two 100m turbines at nearby Cross Moor is unlikely to be approved due to similar issue to those at Three Moors, applicant Devon Light and Power has been advised.

North Devon Council planning officers said that the Batsworthy proposal differed from Three Moors because it was further away from Exmoor.

The report to members said: “Wherever turbines are to be sited in the district they will have an impact of some magnitude.

“Overall a balance has to be made between the adverse visual impact and the ‘need’ for the scheme.”

The report recommends that the application be approved subject to some 40 separate conditions.

It concludes: “This visual impact on the nearest properties and impact on the landscape on balance does not outweigh the benefits the scheme will bring for the wider society.”

For the outcome of today’s meeting, keep checking the Gazette website.