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Planning Balance Weighs Against Hempnall Wind Farm

In another success story for those resisting onshore wind farms, the Secretary of State yesterday dismissed an appeal against the refusal by South Norfolk Council to grant permission for a commercial scale wind farm at Hempnall, Norfolk (see decision here). The site had been the subject of an appeal decision in 2009 when a 7 turbine scheme was dismissed. The Appellant argued that that decision letter recognised that a smaller scale scheme could be allowed, and that the appeal scheme (which had been reduced from 4 to 3 turbines during the application process) was such a scheme. The Council's case was that, in broad terms, it agreed with the level of harm identified by the Appellant on matters such a landscape and cultural heritage, but that the planning balance indicated that permission should be refused.

The SoS's decision letter vindicated the Council's case. The SoS agreed with the Inspector on the impact on the landscape. There would be a significant adverse effect on the character of the landscape close to the appeal site, the turbines would be intrusive in the wider area for about 2 km, and to that extent the scheme would not respect the intrinsic beauty and value of the countryside. The SoS also agreed with the Inspector that there would be less than substantial harm to the setting of St Margaret's Church (Grade I listed) and Hempnall Conservation Area. Specifically, the SoS noted the Inspector's finding that the distant turning blades (1.1-1.7km away) would be visually intrusive and would intrude into the tranquility of the burial ground of the church where some mourners would find the turbines to be more than just visually intrusive.

Yet when considering the planning balance, the SoS disagreed with his Inspector that it weighed in favour of granting permission. Like the Inspector, the SoS had given considerable weight and importance to the statutory duties imposed by the Listed Buildings Act. Here, the less than substantial harm to the setting of the church and to the character and appearance of Hempnall Conservation Area, together with the harm to the character of the landscape, outweighed the accepted benefits of wind energy development. The proposals were not, and could not be made, acceptable.

Asitha Ranatunga appeared on behalf of South Norfolk Council.