A CONTROVERSIAL plan to erect four 125 metre high wind turbines near a County Durham village will be decided at a council planning meeting this week.

The £16m development has been met with fierce objections from action group HUGAG (Hamsterley Upper Gaunless Action Group) which argues the turbines would have an adverse affect on local residents, wildlife and landscape.

It has also attracted opposition from 26 parish councils in the area, together with Natural England, North Pennines AONB, the RSPB, Durham Wildlife Trust and a number of other wildlife organisations.

An initial planning application for the land next to Hamsterley Forrest, sought permission for five 115m high turbines, however this was scaled down in response to public feedback last summer.

The company behind the plans, Banks Renewables, say the scheme would bring around 30 jobs to the area during construction and give local firms the opportunity to tender for contracts worth up to £3.5m.

Durham County Council’s planning committee will consider the application when it meets at 1pm on Tuesday, May 5 at County Hall, Durham.

The committee has been recommended to refuse the application by planning officer Claire Teasdale on the grounds that it would erode the special qualities of the nearby North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and provide an unacceptable threat to birds and bats.

To view the application, visit publicaccess.durham.gov.uk/online-applications and search reference 8/CMA/6/48.

  • A statement from HUGAG:

THESE are not the sort of small turbines which can be seen at a number of local farms. Instead, at 125 metres, they would be nearly twice the height of many of the turbines at Tow Law and four times the height of the Angel of the North.

They would be immediately adjacent to the road skirting the southern edge of Hamsterley Forest where no visitor could fail to be aware of them.

The wind farm site is itself in an area classified as an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV) and within 1km of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Durham County Council's Head of Landscape Ged Lawson writes: “The proposals would have significant cumulative effects, in conjunction with existing and approved wind turbines in the area, on the special character and qualities of the AONB in respect of the erosion of the sense of wildness, remoteness and tranquillity of moorland landscapes along its eastern edges...”

Director of the North Pennines AONB, Chris Woodley-Stewart, says: "It would have a significant adverse (effect) on the purpose of AONB designation from much of the eastern part of the AONB.”

Where local wildlife is concerned, the disruption could be catastrophic with 2010 surveys recording 87 species of birds in the area including 48 species of conservation concern, 17 of which have suffered a 50 per cent decline in UK breeding populations. Damage is also predicted to bat populations, seven species of which are present on the site.

The noise from the turbines, which would have an alien effect on the landscape, would cause Mayland Lea, an attractive stone-built 18th century farmhouse and associated buildings, to become uninhabitable. Several other nearby homes would be at risk of noise nuisance levels above permitted standards.

A report on noise issues commissioned by the county council predicts the turbines would breach noise limits and have significant adverse noise impact.

  • Phil Dyke, development director at Banks Renewables, said:

HOW we generate the energy we use to power our homes, businesses, schools and hospitals in the future is a huge challenge facing the UK, and I believe we'll need to use a mix of different energy generation technologies to meet this challenge, one of which has to be onshore wind.

Modern efficient onshore wind farms, such as the Windy Bank scheme we're proposing north of Woodland in County Durham, provide the cheapest available form of clean, green, renewable energy and they are also already reducing our increasing reliance on energy imports from unstable overseas markets.

Based in County Durham for over 39 years, we have a proud history of working with communities to ensure our projects bring benefits to those who host them. We're looking to invest £16m to create the Windy Bank wind farm which is located in a sparsely populated, entirely suitable area, and as with all our projects, it has been specifically designed to bring a wide range of benefits to the environment, to local communities and to the economy.

Around 30 jobs would be created during the site preparation/construction phases of the project, and local firms would be able to tender for a range of contracts worth up to £3.5m for different aspects of the project including construction, security, accommodation and catering.

The community fund linked to Windy Bank would be worth up to £1.75m over the project's 25-year lifespan and could support priority initiatives for local community, environment, health, fuel poverty and employment projects.

We've had substantial amounts of support for the scheme from residents, community groups and local employers who all appreciate the positive impacts Windy Bank would have on the area alongside the clean, green energy it would generate, and hope this carefully-designed project will be given the go ahead.