French Farm inquiry – people have their say
The people of Thorney had their say when the planning inquiry into the proposed construction of four wind turbines moved to the Bedford Hall on Thursday evening (March 6)
The session was a stark contrast to the previous sittings at the executive suite at Peterborough United. The language was less technical – instead of talking about impacts on visual amenity, we were hearing about “the view from my home”.
For the previous two days we’d heard landscape architects talking about setting up viewpoints and assessing visual impacts, rated on a sliding scale; here people were talking about their view of open sky now being interrupted by large wind turbines and the silence of the night – one man said he could hear his father-in-law coughing in his farmyard almost a mile away – potentially gone forever due to the noise from the turbines.
There was no open anger, no raised voices – people spoke calmly but passionately about the effect they fear the development will have on their homes and lifestyle.
Planning inspector, John Braithwaite allowed everyone who wanted to speak to do so and seemed to find many of the points raised useful ahead of his site visit on Friday (March 7).
It was clear that the decision by the Ministry of Defence to drop its objection to the development was a major blow. Several speakers, including MP Stewart Jackson, had prepared their case assuming that the RAF’s precision approach radar at Wittering would be affected by the turbines.
Mr Jackson wanted to know what the agreement reached between the MOD and the developers said. The inspector said the document had not been placed before the inquiry; all he knew was that the MOD had withdrawn its opposition and had taken no part in the process.
“It’s not acceptable that some kind of sweetheart deal has been done between the MOD and the applicant and that the public does not know what that is,” said Mr Jackson. “The public and the planning authority deserve to be fully conversant with that mitigation and it is important that it is in the public domain. It is only that way that we can measure the efficacy of that decision by the Ministry of Defence.”
Mr Jackson was highly critical of Peterborough City Council planning officers and the planning committee that voted to approve the additional wind turbines last year. “The report sent to the planning committee was incomplete and inadequate for a decision of such local significance and therefore the decision was made based on inaccurate information.
Other speakers included:
Duncan Godber of French Drove, whose home is 1500m from the proposed wind-farm. He said he had been brought up on a farm in Derbyshire and since he moved to the fens he had enjoyed looking out at the huge skies and views across the landscape.
“I like to think that my environmental impact on the area has been positive because I purchased three acres of land around my home and have restored hedgerows by planting 3,000 native hedge plants and nearly 70 native trees. The amount of wildlife that this has given haven to is fantastic. We have a barn owl box, which is regularly used. Turbines kill raptors. In the last few years wind turbines have started to surround us: we now have turbines in our view to the south at Whittlesey, to the north-west at Deeping to the west on Hundreds Road and soon to be the east with the new site at Nutsgrove and Wryde Croft. The north-east view is the only horizon which is yet to be darkened by wind turbines. If these are constructed, this view will be devastated.”
Julie Turner of Bell Drove was also critical of the city council. She said “I didn’t have any personal experience of planning matters before this but had supposed that the planning department would ensure that every piece of relevant data would be checked thoroughly on our behalf and that they would be working for us.
“I am very disappointed and extremely frustrated by the way we have been treated. Our questions have not been answered, we have been ignored, what we’ve said has been discounted and often we could see no good reason why this has happened.”
She criticised the way noise assessments had been carried out and said that she believed wildlife reports were incomplete. The access roads were incorrectly described on early submissions and a whole chapter and its appendix had to be resubmitted, an error described by the planning office as a typo.
“I actually spoke to the highways department because I was trying to find out what was going on and I was told it would be the same route for the two turbines which were already in place and turning round. She tried to argue with me until I said I’m looking out of the window at the site and they’re not actually built yet.
“That, for me, describes the expertise and ability of some of the council staff that we had to deal with who did not even know that two turbines were not actually at the location. So this person was making a decision about the highways situation when she didn’t even know what was in place.”
Margaret Long of French Drove was concerned about access to the site. She said that according to the developer access would be via the A16, Falls Drove and French Drove.
“This will require considerable alteration to the road system to accommodate loads of up to 120 tonnes. At the A16 junction, the plan shows the ditch filled in so that Falls Drove can exit directly onto the A16 instead of looping round. However, while Lincolnshire Highways Authority confirm they have been consulted about weight limits and structures, which were deemed capable of carrying the load, the principal highways officer was not asked about the suitability of the roads themselves.
“Moving south along Falls Drove to the double bends, the plan shows how the bends need to be modified to allow more sweep, however Bedford North Level Drainage Board have no knowledge of this even though there is a ditch on one side of the road and a sluice gate on the other. Consent to alter a watercourse, even for 24 hours, is required by the Land Drainage Act 1991 and no such consent has been applied for.
“I would urge the inspector to drive along Falls Drove to see the proposed access route for himself.”
Steve Lyons, who lives on Dowsdale Bank, said his home (a renovated chapel) was 700 metres from the nearest turbine and he was worried about flicker and also potential damage to the foundations of his home during piling work when turbine bases were being constructed.
“Because the sun comes up behind us, we will get considerable flicker. They say it will only be once every 13 seconds, but because there are six it will be considerably more.
“We have just rebuilt the chapel; I’m in the construction business and piling for the turbines will give us vibrations which could damage my foundations, which are not good.”
Mr Lyons said he was also worried about wildlife. There were barn owls, bats and marsh harriers in the area.
“In the evening you can sit outside and it’s perfect; you can hear a pin drop. The birds come in and roost and it’s literally perfect. I’ve moved from the other side of March where there are some massive wind-farms. I drove past one today between Huntingdon and Warboys, there are now 12 there where there were four. They’ll build more, what’s to stop them and it will spoil the landscape.”
David Harrington, Peterborough City Council representative for Newborough and Peakirk, said he was a member of the planning committee which approved the original application for an additional four turbines, although he’d voted against it.
He didn’t feel that the committee was able to make a decision because the heritage and wildlife officers, who had noted concerns in their reports, were not present to answer questions. “I asked the principal planning officer why we had not got those officers present so we could get some more information and he said there was enough information in those reports to make a decision. I did not think that was the case.
“To put it in context, I sat on the planning committee on Tuesday and the leader of the council had a holly bush that was in his garden in a conservation area and we had to have the tree officer there, at the committee, to make a decision; yet for a planning application of this significance we hadn’t got the relevant offers that had made those reports there so we could question them.”
David Sanders, councillor for Eye and Thorney, said he agreed with Mr Harrington and also supported the arguments put forward by Stewart Jackson about the harmful effect the turbines could have on the radar guidance systems at RAF Wittering.
“What concerns me, as a councillor, is that this area has already had three major air crashes – two Harriers, a Tornado and a Starlifter. I do not want to see another.”
John Bartlett, chairman of Thorney Parish Council, said his council was completely opposed to this development, which was only the start, with a great many more in the planning stage.
John Kitchen of French Drove said: “I live in an ex-farmer-worker’s cottage and there is no way on this Earth we would dream of wanting to live anywhere else because of the stunning fenland countryside that it’s a privilege to live in. When people come to visit our house, they stand in our garden and they invariably say ‘wow’.
“We’ve stood in our garden and watched a barn owl fly within two metres of us, we’ve watched buzzards soaring in thermals over the house, we’ve seen hares, foxes in the fields, even deer.
“I’ve got one figure for you and that’s 800. That’s the number of metres the proposed nearest wind turbine would be from our house. If somebody mugged somebody walking down the street, they’d be accused of adversely affecting their quality of life and, with a bit of luck, they’d go to prison; well I feel I’m being mugged.”
Angelo Convertino of Dowsdale Bank spoke about the amazing wildlife he can see from his home. He accused the city council planning committee of not properly looking at the area. “Not one of these councillors came down our road. Andy, who lives on the corner, said they turned up in a van, turned round, ran over his grass and drove off. Not all the councillors were even in the bus and that’s as much as what they did to investigate the area.
“It’s absolutely disgusting; the council is just not fit for purpose. They’ve overridden our lives basically.
“On a nice quiet night I can hear my father-in-law cough. He’s a farmer and lives over a mile away. When it’s windy and blowing in the right direction, I can hear him cough and shut his garage door and these turbines are going to be a lot closer.”