Suffolk's first wind farm gets go-ahead
PLANS to bid Suffolk's first wind farm have been approved overwhelmingly, despite major concerns from villagers living closest to the development.Suffolk Coastal District Council's development control committee voted 14 to one in favour of Saxon Windpower's application to build six 100m turbines at Parham Airfield, near Framlingham, at a packed meeting yesterday.
By Sarah Chambers
PLANS to bid Suffolk's first wind farm have been approved overwhelmingly, despite major concerns from villagers living closest to the development.
Suffolk Coastal District Council's development control committee voted 14 to one in favour of Saxon Windpower's application to build six 100m turbines at Parham Airfield, near Framlingham, at a packed meeting yesterday.
The decision was greeted with delight by supporters, and deep disappointment by objectors who had gathered in large numbers for the decisive meeting at Stratford St Andrew, near Saxmundham.
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Many of those living closest to the scheme are fearful of the effects it will have on them, both in terms of the visual impact and the noise of the moving blades.
The scheme has faced strong opposition locally since it was revealed in 2003, and communities have been divided over the issue.
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Parish councils closest to the site at Parham, Marlesford and Great Glemham, put forward their case against the development, citing a series of concerns, including criticism that the amount of electricity it would generate was too small to justify it.
One objector described it as “a uniquely enormous industrial construction” which was being imposed on a “small, rural landscape”.
Councillors at the meeting expressed concern over the possible effect on residents, and the approval comes with a string of conditions, including that the turbines should be switched off at speeds where planning officers have deemed that noise could be intrusive.
Planning official Philip Ridley told the meeting: “We believe as officers we have gone far beyond what has been done elsewhere to provide a protection to the district.”
The decision was greeted with dismay by those opposed to the plans. Colin Hart, the district councillor for Hacheston ward, which includes Parham, said he was “deeply disappointed”.
Mr Hart, who is also a county councillor, previously resigned his position as a cabinet member on the county council over the issue, and spoke out strongly against the plans at the meeting.
“Parham will be just the start,” he warned. “If this application is approved, I have no doubt we shall be back here again before long considering another wind farm application, and another and another.”
Over a period of around five hours, councillors listened to an outline of the application by planners, and to an explanation of how the noise produced by the turbines had been evaluated, as well as to arguments for and against the plans by community representatives.
Environmental health officer Clive Pink explained why they felt the turbines should be switched off at speeds of three metres per second to minimise the effect on residents.
“From a worst case point of view we looked at, at Parham that could be up to one in five nights,” he said.
“Some properties will be able to clearly hear the turbines and we are not claiming the turbines will not be audible.”
Councillor Rae Leighton, who was the only member to vote against the application, felt he was being asked to vote on political policy, rather than planning decision.
“I don't think I'm looking at a planning application as such. I'm looking at a political policy decision I have got to make here,” he said.
Councillor Barry Slater said most of the objections were “both genuine and reasonable” and felt it had been a deeply divisive issue. But he added he felt concerns had been “satisfactorily addressed”.
John Constable, chairman of opposition group No Windfarm At Parham, which has more than 500 members, refused to comment on the outcome of the meeting.
Richard Ward, chairman of the Suffolk Preservation Society, which has been vociferous in its opposition to the plans because of fears over the visual impact, said: “The Parham decision suggests that national considerations and objectives appear to be given greater weight than local community concerns. It's this emphasis that is most worrying to the society as it appears to be part of an emerging trend.”
Richard Marden, managing director of Your Energy, one of the companies involved in Saxon Windpower, said he was “delighted”.
“I'm incredibly impressed with the diligence of the planning office and the quality of the debate that the planning committee undertook today.
“It was a long session, and the issues involved have been complicated and at times very heavily charged emotionally but the committee agreed with us that this is a good project, agreed with us that we need to do something about climate change and agreed with us that our project will be significant in terms of 4,000 households receiving green electricity,” he said.
“It has been a very high profile project and the protest group has made its views very clear and in some ways the protest group has been a model for other protest groups around the country at other projects, but today is clearly a vote in favour of renewable energy and my company's professional approach in making sure this project is developed in the correct way.”
The company will now be involved in talks with planners, who have been given authority to approve the application, about a legal agreement for the site, and terms and conditions.
He guessed it would take another 12 months before work could start on the site, and a further six months for construction to be completed. If all goes to plan, he hoped the site would be producing electricity by the spring of 2007.