Wind farm inquiry starts

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Anybody wondering why lawyers are such popular figures should attend the inquiry hearings that are now underway into the wind farm Nuon UK limited wish to build a few miles south east of Audlem. There's a room-full of legal experts filling half the Victory Hall in Woore for the next eleven or so days, each scoring points over the minutiae of thousands of pages of evidence submitted by expert witnesses and large numbers of local organisations and residents.

Counsel representing Nuon; Shropshire County Council; Newcastle-under-Lyme Council; the pressure group Vortex and nineteen individual objectors; five local parish councils including Audlem and Buerton, all made their opening statements on the first morning of the Inquiry which opened at 10.00am today. Other individuals, including the local vicar, the MP Bill Cash and Woore Cricket Club also applied to give statements during the lengthy hearing which will decide if Nuon can build a seven-turbine wind farm at Poplar Lane near Knighton.

The planning application for the proposed farm, with 110m high turbines that will be visible from parts of Audlem and Buerton, was rejected by North Shropshire District Council in September last year at a meeting attended by 600 or so residents, virtually all opposed to Nuon's plans. Nuon appealed against that decision by the council, hence the inquiry at Woore.

Complications affecting the appeal include the fact that North Shropshire Council no longer exists following local government re-organisation and their role has been taken over by Shropshire County Council. In addition, the access road to the site is in Newcastle-under-Lyme and that council had originally also rejected Nuon's application.

Impact on a sensitive areaThe inquiry will focus on three key points:
  • the effect on the surrounding area
  • the impact on residents' amenities
  • the effect on listed buildings and conservation areas in the vicinity.
  • Nuon's barrister claimed that the argument isn't about local benefits but the wider public interest and that an adverse visual impact is not a reason for refusal and that the scheme was carefully considered respecting its surroundings and would contribute to national renewable energy targets.

    It was soon clear that the case to be argued by the local councils, pressure groups and individuals would revolve around the adverse impact on local amenities, landscape, conservation areas and listed buildings. They said that the local countryside was 'sensitive' and therefore subject to the national guidelines that on-shore wind farms were an inappropriate development in sensitive areas such as the planned site.

    Other arguments put forward in objection were the impact on local businesses, particularly a stud farm and orchard, plus the added traffic on local roads. In particular, the affect on the listed Willoughbridge Lodge was subject to a forensic dissection, at times word by word, during the cross-examination of English Heritage's expert witness by Nuon's barrister.

    The inquiry has all the signs of being a keenly contested battle over the coming weeks which is sure to cost an awful lot of money in legal fees. The big question is whether the views of thousands of local residents and their democratically elected local government will prevail against the commercial needs of a renewable energy company. Place your bets now!

    Hearing detailsThe hearings run from 10.00am — 1.00pm and 2.00pm — 5.00pm daily at Woore Victory Hall. The Inspector chairing the Inquiring will be on a formal site visit on 12th May to where the wind farm is planned.