Wind farm ruling protects heritage sites

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conservationists have won a High Court battle against plans for a wind farm they said would result in substantial harm to a heritage area “of national significance”.

English Heritage and the National Trust say the case has national implications.

They supported East Northamptonshire District Council’s successful legal bid to block proposals submitted by West Coast Energy for four 300ft (91m) turbines on farmland at Barnwell Manor in Sudborough.

The manor is owned by the Duke of Gloucester, the Queen’s cousin, who is not directly involved in the challenge.

Mrs Justice Lang ruled at London’s High Court yesterday that the decision to go ahead was legally flawed and must be quashed.

The judge ruled there had been a failure by a public inquiry inspector “properly to interpret and apply the relevant planning policies on the effect of development on the setting of heritage sites, which meant that the balancing exercise was flawed”.

Quashing approval of the wind farm, the judge ordered that the proposal should be reconsidered in the light of her judgment.

Conservationists were concerned about the impact the wind farm would have on panoramic views, and in particular the setting of Lyveden New Bield, a 17th-century lodge which has one of the finest surviving examples of an Elizabethan garden.

National Trust representative Mark Bradshaw said: “We hope this brings to an end a five-year battle to preserve and protect the important setting of some of our most significant heritage assets.

“Lyveden is of international importance. The harm to heritage assets like Lyveden should be weighed against the benefits of wind farms.”

The conservationists say the area of Northamptonshire they are seeking to protect has “a great many top-dollar heritage assets”.

The district council rejected the wind farm plans, then involving five wind turbines, in 2010, after strong local opposition. But Barnwell Manor Wind Energy Ltd appealed and in March last year public inquiry inspector Paul Griffiths allowed plans for four turbines.

The inspector said he recognised the wide implications for listed buildings and conservation areas, and that the proposal would cause harm to the setting, but that was outweighed by the “significant benefits” of renewable energy.

Yesterday, the judge ruled the inspector had “erred in law”.

The judge found that, as well as failing properly to conduct a balancing exercise required by the 1990 Act for preserving heritage sites, the inspector had failed properly to apply planning policies for Lyveden New Bield.

The inspector “did not at any stage in the balancing exercise accord ‘special weight’, or considerable importance to ‘the desirability of preserving the setting’ when assessing the level of harm that would be caused by the wind farm, the judge said.