D-day for controversial wind farm plans

TODAY is decision day on what could be Suffolk's first wind farm.Suffolk Coastal District Councillors meet this morning to vote on Saxon Windpower's controversial scheme to build six 100m wind turbines in crop fields at Parham Airfield, near Framlingham.

By Sarah Chambers

TODAY is decision day on what could be Suffolk's first wind farm.

Suffolk Coastal District Councillors meet this morning to vote on Saxon Windpower's controversial scheme to build six 100m wind turbines in crop fields at Parham Airfield, near Framlingham.

Battle lines were drawn almost as soon as the £10 million plans were unveiled in December 2003, and experts and residents have lined up both for and against the application.

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Many of those living near the site have strong concerns about the impact it will have on their lives, both in terms of the size of the turbines and the noise which will be generated by them.

Today's crunch decision will be taken by the 15 members of the council's development control committee, chaired by councillor Ivan Jowers, who will consider a planners' report which has come out in favour of the plans.

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They have been ploughing through thousands of pages of reports and consultation responses in the run-up to the meeting, and face the difficult task of weighing the arguments over the benefits of the wind farm in creating “green” energy, against its impact.

Supporters point out that the site would produce enough energy for 4,000 homes, which represents 8% of the population of the district, and help to cut carbon emissions.

Critics argue that the renewable energy it will produce is tiny compared to the effect on residents' lives, and cite noise and visual impact among their concerns.

The plans have split opinion, and soon after they were revealed, a local opposition group No Windfarm At Parham, or NOWAP, formed, which is now more than 500-strong.

Dozens of objectors' placards supporting off-shore rather than on-shore wind farms have sprung up in village gardens throughout the area.

The district council launched a huge consultation exercise, and brought in independent experts to look at the environmental statement produced by the developers on the plans.

Responses produced from the consultation have been mixed, but a majority of parish councils consulted are opposed.

English Heritage and Suffolk Preservation Society have also objected, and expressed fears about the impact of the turbines on important buildings. Hundreds of letters have been received on the application, both for and against.

Noise has also been a prominent issue, and NOWAP submitted an independent consultants' report which was critical of the wind farm proposals on the last day of the consultation period.

Among the recommendations to councillors, who are being asked to give planners authority to approve the application, is that Bob Chamberlain, as head of development and building control, should be satisfied that the frequency of “worse case noise” conditions are acceptable through the submission of appropriate surveys carried out by the applicants.

Even in the last days leading up to the decision, the arguments have continued to rage.

The Suffolk Preservation Society, which commissioned its own independent assessment of the scheme, this week described it as “the wrong proposal in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“If Parham Wind Farm is given the thumbs up, it will do little to address our energy needs but will do a great deal of damage to the environment around it,” warned the Society's director, Richard Ward.

But Saxon Windpower also this week released the results of its own local survey carried out in September 2005, which found that 79% of those who responded were in favour of the scheme.

Around a tenth of the 5,000 households in villages around the proposed site who were sent a Saxon Windpower newsletter about the proposals completed and sent in the attached survey form.

Project manager for Saxon Windpower James Townsend said: “The level of support has increased, from 60% in January 2004 to 79% in September 2005. “Local people have become more knowledgeable about, and gained first-hand experience of wind farms.

“Also, local residents appear to be more interested in issues such as climate change and global warming.”

But John Constable, chairman of NOWAP, criticised the poll, saying most of those surveyed were far out from the proposed development and “not much affected”

“I don't regard this poll as remotely significant or indicative of local feeling, which is solidly against the wind farm,” he said.

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