On 15th October 2014 Baroness Quin led a short debate in the House of Lords on the Government’s assessment of the extent of onshore wind farming in the county of Northumberland. The Lord Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Martin Wharton, contributed to the debate, making the case for an increased focus on the development of alternative forms of renewable energy outside the county of Northumberland.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, last Friday I took a relatively short train journey from Waterloo to Winchester, in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. The journey took little more than an hour, about the same time as it takes me to travel through my diocese from Newcastle to the Scottish border. There was a striking difference between those two train journeys. Obviously, there was no beautiful coast or even the odd castle on my trip to Hampshire, and yet to me the most striking difference was that there was not a wind turbine—let alone a wind farm—in sight at all. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Northumberland now has more wind power capacity installed than 16 counties in the south of England put together. It is then hardly surprising that a recent survey claimed that 70% of the British public support onshore wind. The truth is that 70% of the British public live in places where they will never have to put up with the sight or the sound of a wind turbine, unlike the people who happen to live in the beautiful county of Northumberland. During my time as bishop, wind farms have proliferated across the countryside to an alarming degree.
The level of Northumberland’s contribution to the Government’s onshore wind targets has been disproportionately high, as we have heard. We contribute more than 10% of all England’s wind energy but consume just over 0.5% of England’s electricity. Nobody should accuse us of nimbyism. It is hardly surprising then that the message from this short debate is simply: enough is enough. The good people of Northumberland have had enough of onshore wind farms. That point has finally, if belatedly, been recognised by DCLG in recent guidance, which states that it does not mean that,
“the need for renewable energy … overrides environmental protection and the planning concerns of local communities”.
Of course, we all recognise the need for a greater reliance on renewable forms of energy. Our countryside needs to be protected, which is why the recent refusal of two more wind farm developments in Northumberland was so welcome, despite in one case more than £3 million being offered by developers to a small village community. Thankfully, the huge financial inducement—I will not call it a bribe—did not sway the local people. Money cannot buy what the residents are being asked to give up. That was the message of the local people. The trouble is that so many of the most beautiful parts of the Northumberland landscapes have already been scarred and disfigured, despite the fact that, as we have heard, the wind does not blow as well as in other areas of the country, and there being no evidence that I have seen that wind will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that we need.
We all have a duty and responsibility to care for our environment and to exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation. We are custodians of the future for our children and our children’s children. That is why I urge the Minister to take back to DECC the case for ending any further subsidies for onshore wind, especially in Northumberland, and for deploying those funds more sensibly and more wisely on other forms of renewable energy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle rightly referred to the new planning guidance for renewable energy that was published last year. That will help to deliver the balance required by the National Planning Policy Framework, making it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. Indeed, properly involving local communities in proposals that will affect them is a critical step in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development. That is why we have made it compulsory for developers to have pre-application consultations with local communities for any onshore wind development of more than two turbines or where the hub height of any turbine exceeds 15 metres. This means that developers will need to engage very seriously with communities before even submitting a planning application.