Laxfield: Turbine row gets personal as rift opens in village
- Credit: Archant
A controversial wind turbine application is threatening to drive a wedge between residents of a picturesque Suffolk village.
Harry Standley’s bid to install a third turbine on his Laxfield farm - with an overall tip height of 45m - is causing ructions among those who object to the size, scale and principle of his plans.
The 67-year-old businessman claims to have been the victim of a “character assassination” after his application drew national press attention - and said he now worries the proposal will not get a fair hearing.
But opponents have attacked the application as “selfish”.
Mr Standley, who stands to benefit financially from the Government’s renewable energy scheme, has been quoted claiming he will receive £80,000 a year from the 250kW wind turbine - but he told the EADT the cash is by no means guaranteed, and that he won’t see a return on his £500,000 investment for at least 10 years.
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Other residents remain angered, including former BBC royal correspondent and Harrods spokesman Michael Cole, who says bill-payers are being forced to subsidise schemes which “rape the countryside”.
Mr Standley, who made the application in July for wind power firm Mosscliff to install the turbine, said: “I want to contribute to getting away from our reliance on fossil fuels. Our country badly needs energy and we’re gobbling up resources.
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“I’m not against people protesting but I do take issue with people bringing up things that have nothing to do with planning policy.
“This whole thing has been whipped up by a few individuals. It’s pretty near to being a character assassination.
“I’m very worried that I will not get a fair hearing and that the planning process could be undermined. There doesn’t seem to have yet been a proper reasoned debate.”
Although Mid Suffolk District Council said it was unable to discuss details of pending applications, it insisted that each one is considered on its merit.
Planners will have to consider a number of objections, including from fellow Laxfield resident Mr Cole, who said the application was entirely based on making profit, and alluded to Mr Standley’s comments in an online article, which he claimed: “advised farmers on how to make money by exploiting the Government’s misguided policies on green energy.”
Mr Cole added: “We are all contributing to Mr Standley’s overpriced energy through our electricity bills. Rather than getting cheaper electricity, we’re subsidising schemes which rape the countryside in my view.
“No one is attacking his character. We are saying he has made a selfish application, but we have faith that planners will see the iniquity of the proposal and reject it. There is a danger of Laxfield becoming a dumping ground for these monstrous mini power stations.
“You wouldn’t find any of these things around Sandringham or Highgrove House. What does that tell you?”
Mr Standley argues the Government put an incentive scheme in place to encourage development, and that the average contribution to renewables from household bills was negligible when compared to the nuclear industry. He said: “People are still going to pay it whether or not I put up a turbine, so claiming that taxpayers are footing the bill is a red herring. I’m not making money dishonestly.
“I would not have considered making this application had the landscape not already been impaired by pylons. Unfortunately, people do not have a right to a view. Spoiling the landscape is a different matter.
“If the majority of the village did not want it, I would not put it up. But the parish council meeting, where we put forward the application, was attended by only 15 people – three of them being me, my wife and a representative of Mosscliff.”
Another objector, Tom Knox, said the low attendance was down to lack of awareness that the meeting was taking place. Regardless of turnout, the parish council chose to vote six to one against the application.
Mr Knox, who delivered 50 notices through doors in the area surrounding the proposed site, said: “Those who turned up to object were some of the only people who knew about it.
“Mr Standley may feel he’s being vilified but we feel he just doesn’t care. The money has nothing to do with my objection. The Government’s idiotic mistake is their business. The point is that our views will be destroyed - and if we’d had more notice I would still have objected because I hate the sight of them.”
With the money he could make from the turbine, Mr Standley says he would like to refurbish a number of Victorian model farm buildings on his land, which he believes are of historical interest. He added: “I’m also quite prepared to give up a couple of acres for a conservation area.”
Mr Standley’s application is expected to go before the planning committee of Mid Suffolk District Council before the end of the year.
RenewableUK is the UK’s leading renewable energy trade association.
Communications officer John Lang said: “We wouldn’t comment on an individual application because there are always different circumstances.
“On the whole we are seeing applications being successful, which leads us to believe their success means they are answering the concerns local people might have.
“When it comes to an individual putting a wind turbine up on their land, they are responsible for meeting planning regulations. It’s then a matter for the council to consider. Individuals are responsible for financing the turbine themselves.
“There is a financial support mechanism for the industry but the idea that household bills go up because of renewables is a strange one. The real reason is the price of fossil fuels like gas going up. It costs every consumer three pence a day to support the mechanism for wind.
“There will always be people who oppose these applications, but we are seeing increasing levels of support.”