Lyveden New Bield 2Leading conservation bodies have united for the first time in a High Court battle against plans for a windfarm they say will result in substantial harm to a heritage area “of national significance”.
English Heritage and the National Trust say if they lose the landmark case the protection of other important historic sites around the country could also be undermined.
They argue the area in Northamptonshire has “a great many top-dollar heritage assets” and defeat will “turn government policy on conservation on its head”.
In a unique move, English Heritage and the National Trust are supporting East Northamptonshire District Council’s legal bid to block plans for four wind turbines in an area north of Catshead Woods on farmland at Sudborough.
In particular there is concern over the wind farm’s impact on the setting of Lyveden New Bield, a 17th Century lodge which has one of the finest surviving examples of an Elizabethan garden in the country.
The district council rejected the windfarm plans, then involving five wind turbine generators, in 2010 after strong local opposition and fears the heritage of the area would be put at risk through their interference with panoramic views.
But developers Barnwell Manor Wind Energy Ltd appealed, and in March last year public inquiry inspector Paul Griffiths allowed the construction of four turbines.
The proposals include building a sub-station, access road, an 80 metre (262 feet) anemometer mast, underground cabling and temporary construction facilities.
Each turbine will have a hub height of 85m (278ft), a rotor diameter of approximately 93m (305ft) and total maximum height of 126.5m (415ft).
The inspector said he recognised the case had wide implications for listed buildings and conservation areas and the proposal would cause harm to the setting of a range of designated heritage assets.
But the harm was “less than substantial” and was outweighed by the “significant benefits” the windfarm would bring in terms of renewable energy.
Today Morag Ellis QC, representing the council, argued at London’s High Court that the inspector’s decision was legally flawed and he had underestimated the harm that would be caused.
Ms Ellis told Mrs Justice Lang the way the inspector had worded his decision was “genuinely mysterious and wholly inadequate”.
He had concluded the presence of the turbines “would not erode a reasonable observer’s understanding or appreciation of the significance of the designated heritage assets – and they would therefore have no harmful impact on their settings”.
Ms Ellis said: “That is an extraordinary conclusion. There are a great many top-dollar heritage assets involved here.
“This decision turns government policy on conservation on its head.
Speaking on BBC Radio Northampton today, Jonathan Hornett of Northants Green Party, said ‘in it’s day Lyveden New Bield itself was a controversial addition to the countryside with strong local opposition; the whole site, including the gardens and moats are man made’
‘This country needs energy security, energy bills are increasing due to having to import fuel. Foreign countries will try to charge as much as they can for fuel because why shouldn’t they?’
‘People always want the electricity, but do not want the generation of electricity, a balance of wind, solar and fossil fuelled generation is they only way forward.’