Many, many hundreds, including a large Audlem representation, packed the Grove School's hall at Market Drayton for the planning committee meeting last night. The committee was to consider the planning application to erect seven wind turbines to the south east of Audlem at Bearstone in North Shropshire. Waving placards and cheering every councillor or speaker who argued against the planned scheme, the people were victorious as a large majority of North Shropshire's councillors vetoed the application.
The vote went against the recommendation of the council's planning department. Their planning officer, Stuart Thomas, was clearly in favour of approval and the chairman of the committee, Cllr Karen Calder, was also swayed by the applicant Nuon and was in favour. Eleven councillors, some clearly influenced by the massive and vociferous public opposition, thought otherwise and the application was thrown out. It will almost certainly go to appeal when a public enquiry will reconsider the application.
The council had received an incredible 2,333 written objections to the planned wind farm, with only five submissions supporting it. The opposition included Audlem and Buerton Parish Councils – both announced at the meeting – Crewe & Nantwich Borough Council and North Shropshire MP Owen Patterson. One council's opposition had a crucial impact. The wind farm's access to the road network fell within the auspices of Newcastle-under-Lyme council, and they had already turned down the application.
There were four calmly argued yet passionate speeches from opponents, all cheered to the rafters of the large hall. Then followed two less warmly received statements – from Nuon's project manager, a lonely figure on the night, and Stuart Thomas on behalf of the planners who said the wind farm's visual impact was not an issue! This attracted a later counter argument from a councillor: "The countryside is not renewable!" Judging by the audience's reaction, this appeared to reflect local sentiment a little more accurately than the planning officer.
In such a packed hall, it was almost impossible to hear the declared result as councillors voted, and the votes were re-counted several times. Eleven to four against seemed to be the final decision as the hall's roof was nearly lifted by the cheers. On the night, public opinion and democracy won with Visual Impact the key planning reason for rejection. The big question now is: will 2,333 objections against five in support; the views of the majority of local councillors; strong opposition from virtually everyone in the immediate area and the clear view of the huge numbers who turned out last night, win again at the appeal? It was announced last night that the Government's planning guidance said local democracy must be taken into account. The appeal's decision will test whether that guidance is sincere – or simply empty rhetoric.
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