Councillors forbidden from blocking Haverhill turbine

St Edmundsbury Councillors were set to deny James Sills planning permission to build a 78 mt high wind turbine outside Haverhill, but were blocked from doing so by the council's legal officer
St Edmundsbury Councillors were set to deny James Sills planning permission to build a 78 mt high wind turbine outside Haverhill, but were blocked from doing so by the council's legal officer

Councillors were blocked from preventing a 78 metre high wind turbine being built on the edge of Haverhill in a decision labelled as ‘an erosion of democracy’.

St Edmundsbury Council’s development control committee met last Thursday (January 2) to hear farmer James Sills’ plans to build the controversial turbine near Nosterfield End and Ladygate Wood.

Gamlingay Wind Turbine

Gamlingay Wind Turbine

Planning officer Charlotte Ballard, who had recommended the turbine for approval, said it will be visible from Haverhill’s Hales Barn estate (2.8 kilometres away), and barely visible from Steeple Bumpstead (5.2km) and West Wickham (6.1km).

There were 58 objections from seven parishes, and several opponents spoke out against the plans.

Suffolk County Councillor Julian Flood raised wildlife concerns and questioned whether the energy benefits would be what Mr Sills, who successfully applied to have a turbine erected in Clare despite much opposition, forecast.

He said the claims it would produce enough power for 346 homes are ‘impossibly high’, and that it would more likely generate power for 217 homes.

He said Mr Sills would be better using a 800kw turbine on the site rather than the 500kw one his is applying for, but that this would halve the amount of government subsidy he would receive.

Town clerk Will Austin said if permission were given then the energy generated should be measured six months to a year after completion and if not as forecast it should be taken down, and added that the £15,000 offered to the town council should go through official channels so as not to be seen as a ‘sweetener’.

Haverhill deputy mayor Maureen Byrne, also a borough councillor, said she had spoken to ‘hundreds’ of residents concerned about the application.

She said 2,000 to 3,000 people lived within a mile of the site.

Helions Bumpstead Parish Council raised concerns about radar interference with Stansted Airport, though both the National Air Traffic Survey (NATS) and the airport had removed objections after Mr Sill agreed to install a form of radar blacking over the site.

There were also concerns about the impact on the countryside, noise levels, the safety of passing cars and ice being thrown for up to a mile off the blades.

Mr Sills said that a Mail on Sunday survey showed 70 per cent of people favour turbines, including 57 per cent of United Kingdom Independence Party voters, and said it will produce 1.6 million units of electricity per year.

Cllr Peter Stevens, for Cavendish, said: “We erroneously gave permission for the one (turbine) in Clare as we were greenwashed then and I hope we will come to our senses and see that these turbines are not energy driven but subsidy driven.”

It appeared as if the councillors would vote against the turbine, but legal officer Peter Heard advised that to do so would likely see them lose on appeal given that English Heritage, Suffolk Wildlife and other bodies have not raised similar objections.

It was agreed that head of planning Rachael Almond would ensure a risk assessment is put together detailing the legal risks the council would face in voting no.

Wickhambrook Independent Cllr Derek Redhead said: “The longer I sit here the more concerned I become as it seems to be a constant getting rid of democracy.

“How many times have we been challenged through the courts and lost over decisions that we’ve made?

“We’ve never been a council that’s been proved as making a lot of bad decisions.

“This is a constant erosion of democracy.”

Rougham Cllr Sara Mildmay White disagreed and said it was important for the risk assessment to be taken so their decision would not just be overturned on appeal.

“We need to form an argument as to why we’ve refused as without that we lose on appeal and the whole process is a waste of time,” she said.

A vote was thus taken to ‘be minded for refusal’, with seven voting for (to refuse it) and four voting against.

The reasons to be mindful for refusal were that the viability was unproven, the impact on nature, residential buildings, the landscape and biodiversity.

A vote on whether or not to allow planning permission for the turbine will be taken at a subsequent development control committee once the risk assessment is completed, with the next meeting on February 6.

For all the latest news see today’s (Thursday, January 9) Echo.