On 22 December 2014 the Secretary of State finally announced his decision to refuse planning permission for a commercial scale wind farm known as Spring Farm Ridge, located between Greatworth and Helmdon in Northamptonshire, overturning his Inspector's recommendation.
The application was for a 5 turbine scheme (125m to blade tip) and had been up and down the appeal system for 4 years. The application was originally made in 2010 and refused permission by South Northamptonshire Council in 2011. Following an inquiry in 2012, permission was granted by an Inspector, but the decision was quashed following a High Court appeal brought by the Council and residents. A fresh inquiry was held in October 2013 during which the appeal was recovered by the SoS for determination.
The Inspector's report acknowledged that the determination was finely balanced. The proposal would harm the landscape character and visual amenity of the area. There would be a major adverse effect on the local landscape, reducing to a moderate / major effect up to about 2.5km from the turbines. In terms of visual effects, there would be a major adverse effect on many local views. There was a high concentration of heritage assets in the area and moderate or minor adverse effects on some of them which would remain for a generation at least, though there was no substantial harm.
As for other matters, the turbines would result in a significant increase above the low background noise levels apparent in the area at night. However, turbines could be installed which would come within ETSU-R-97 limits, and a lower fixed limit at night and an Amplitude Modulation condition were both necessary and reasonable to prevent unacceptable harm. Some weight could properly be given to the perception of harm to safety for those using the local Public Rights of Way network, though this was not a weighty consideration nor one which would tip the balance. There was an overall conflict with the Development Plan given the harm identified, but national policy (EN-1/EN-3), the Framework, and the PPG indicated that permission should be granted, given the acknowledged benefits of renewable energy.
In a relatively short decision letter, the SoS agreed with many of the findings of his Inspector, including that the determination was finely balanced. However he disagreed with his Inspector as to where the balance fell. In particular the identified harm to the heritage assets as well as the character and visual amenity of the area meant that the likely harm would not be outweighed. Applying the decision in Barnwell Manor, the harm to a range of heritage assets, whilst not being substantial, merited considerable importance and weight in the planning balance.
Asitha Ranatunga appeared on behalf of South Northamptonshire Council. The Secretary of State's decision letter and Inspector's Report can be found here.