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Diocese backs wind farm despite local opposition

20 May 2016

DAVE KELLY/COMMONS

Aspect: St Anne's, Whitstone

Aspect: St Anne's, Whitstone

A PROPOSAL to construct a wind farm near Bude, in Cornwall, opposed by ten parish and district councils, has won the support of the diocese of Truro’s environment group.

Plans to build 11 125-metre-high turbines, submitted by the renewable energy firm Good Energy, were turned down by Cornwall Council in 2014. The Council judged that the turbines would have an “adverse visual impact on the landscape”, and be a “visually dominant and distracting addition to the setting of the Grade I listed church of St Anne at Whitstone, which would amount to substantial harm to its significance”. Good Energy appealed, and a planning inquiry was opened last month.

Submissions to the planning committee from church-people are expected from church people both for and against the development.

The Archdeacon of Cornwall, the Ven. Bill Stuart-White, who chairs the diocese’s environment group, said last week that, in light of the “serious damage” caused by fossil fuels, the diocese would “support and encourage, in principle, the use and development of varied forms of renewable energy, including wind turbines, wherever possible and appropriate”.

The group’s submission argues that “issues of visual impact are largely subjective. . . It is our view that having a Grade I listed church and 21st-century wind turbines in the same landscape is a positive and consistent witness to the Christian commitment to the Fifth Mark of Mission. . . The ‘substantial harm that is of far greater significance is that inflicted on the planet by the impact of global warming, caused in no small measure by our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Noting the extent of fuel poverty in the diocese, Archdeacon Stuart-White also welcomed Good Energy’s offer to reduce its tariff for residents living within the area of the farm. He welcomed the debate over the proposal, noting that “stifling debate leads to a lot of justified ill-feeling”.

Sue Reppold, who attends St Anne’s, said that there had been a “proliferation” of turbines in the area, in addition to “huge” solar farms. She described how, in contrast to other parts of the country, turbines in Cornwall were situated “right up close” to villages.

“Wherever you go, you have these great turbines in your sight line,” she said. If the Good Energy wind farm went ahead, the view across to the parish church of Week St Mary — “a breathtakingly beautiful, tranquil, ancient wooded valley” — would be marred. The turbines would also have a huge impact on people’s livelihoods and the value of their houses, many of them less than one mile from a turbine, she said.

Despite the opposition of English Heritage, parish councils, and the county council, the proposal had returned to the table, leaving people feeling as if their voice was not being heard. People in north Cornwall were becoming “exhausted and now more vociferous because they [energy firms] won’t go away.”

The Rector of the Week St Mary circle of parishes, the Revd Tony Windross, has written about the "tensions" produced by the proposal, in the parish magazine. Neither side of the debate was able to claim "an unambiguous Christian warrant for their understanding", he wrote, and the principle of stewardship could be cited by both: "The duty to look after the atmosphere conflicts with the duty to look after the landscape."

He wrote: "Probably most local people are in favour of wind energy – with rather fewer being in favour of this particular scheme. . . It's often only those closely affected by a particular scheme who realise the actual impact it’s going to have. And far from being NIMBYs are the (only) ones working to hang on to something precious which is in danger of being lost."

Those who would welcome a limitless number of turbines were "surely massively outnumbered by those who feel Cornwall has already contributed far more than its fair share to the de-carbonising of the British energy economy. And if more turbines are needed, other places (such as leafy Oxfordshire?) might like to volunteer."

He warned that, "whatever the outcome, the unfortunate damage to local relationships resulting from the issue is going to take a whole lot longer to repair." 

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