Here in the valley of the River Tove in south Northamptonshire my chickens are laying copiously, my ducks are quacking loudly, and my Jack Russell, Polly, is yapping gaily in celebration of a great victory: the Spanish energy company, which for more than three years has been threatening to desecrate this pleasant bit of countryside with a line of eight giant wind turbines, each taller than Big Ben, has suddenly said it is abandoning the plan after deciding that it is not feasible. The company, Gamesa, belatedly revealed that it would not after all be seeking planning permission for this wind farm in a curt and otherwise uninformative little letter to the Conservative Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire, Andrea Leadsom, who has gallantly championed the cause of the local community that has been campaigning vigorously against it.
I can’t tell you what a relief this is, not only for the bats whose little lungs will be saved from bursting under the air pressure caused by wind turbines, nor for the horses at Towcester racecourse who will be spared the fear and confusion provoked by the ‘shadow flicker’ of their rotating blades, but also for the many human residents of the valley, including me, whose homes were expected to fall in value by at least 30 per cent if the ‘Tove Renewable Energy Park’, so-called by its planners to suggest bucolic peace and ecological virtue, were to go ahead. We used to feel guilty about putting our own petty interests above those of entire populations fighting global warming; but now that we know that wind farms do nothing whatsoever to reduce carbon emissions (not a single fossil-fuel power station has been closed because of them), we don’t feel guilty any more. We feel, on the contrary, that we have been fighting in a just cause to preserve some of what’s left of the English countryside and of the environs of the listed buildings and monuments in which this otherwise unsung county abounds. There is no conservation body here that hasn’t opposed Gamesa’s plan.
Gamesa hasn’t disclosed its reasons for dropping the project. It would be nice to think that our local action group made a difference; that all those placards attached to trees saying ‘No wind farm here’ had their effect, that the ‘blimp’ (a kind of balloon) flying over Towcester racecourse to show people the extraordinary height of the proposed turbines made a great impression; but I rather doubt it. As Andrea Leadsom says on her website, ‘Gamesa do not elaborate on why they have decided this is not a feasible project but I hope that the recent reductions in government subsidies will have contributed to the decision.’
I expect that that was the main reason, because local opposition to wind farms has so far had a poor record of achieving anything. Even when local councils have rejected planning permission for them, their decisions have tended to be overruled by government inspectors on appeal. But the two recent reductions in government subsidies (paid for, incidentally, by hard-up electricity consumers to the further enrichment of already rich landowners) may well have given some energy companies second thoughts. The great Mrs Leadsom is no fan of the European Union, but she warmly supports the European Commission’s proposal to end all subsidies to wind farms on the grounds that the wind industry is now ‘mature’ and should be allowed to operate without taxpayers’ support.
The thing I don’t understand, however, is why energy companies threatening local communities with these frightful impositions are allowed to keep them in suspense for years on end. Here in the Tove Valley we have spent thousands of pounds and held countless unhappy meetings in anticipation of a decision by Gamesa that it has spent years refusing to reveal. Should it not have been obliged to declare its intentions at a somewhat earlier stage? Yes; but we have been luckier than others, such as the people around the village of Helmdon, a few miles north of here, whose hated wind farm proposal has been granted, rejected, and then reopened again, with a final decision now resting in the hands of Eric Pickles, the portly Local Government Secretary.
He is expected to decide in May, and may he decide rightly. For his decision will be an important factor in determining whether Northamptonshire, despite being less windy than any other English county, but because of its lack of ‘national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, green belts or airport exclusion zones, which would get in the way of turbines 125 metres high’ (I quote the CPRE), will remain ‘the wind farm capital of England’ (the CPRE again). It is completely ridiculous that it should be so.