Council to consider Northumberland wind turbine plans for fourth time

A council will have to reconsider plans for a wind turbine on a Northumberland farm for a fourth time after a High Court judge quashed the latest planning approval for the development.

Andrew Joicey of New Etal, Cornhill-on-Tweed has, for the third time, won a ruling quashing Northumberland County Council's decision to grant planning permission to John Barber for the wind turbine at Brackenside Farm, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland.

Mr justice Cranston, expressed sympathy for Barber, whose efforts to erect a wind turbine and cut his fuel bills had been thwarted "through no fault of his own", but ruled that the council had failed in its duty to the public in the way it took its latest decision.

The council will now have to consider the proposal for a fourth time, after two earlier planning permissions quashed were also quashed by the court in proceedings brought by Joicey.

That first permission was granted in February 2012, but in the face of a judicial review claim by Joicey, the council conceded that it should not stand.

However, when it decided the matter again in November 2012, the council again granted planning consent.

That decision too was quashed by the court in March 2013, in the wake of Joicey's claim that a noise condition was defective, and that heritage body English Heritage should have been consulted due to the impact on nearby listed buildings.

Then, in November last year, the council's county-wide Planning and Environment and Rights of Way Committee voted 10-3 in favour of approving the wind turbine once again.

But Joicey claimed that, in doing so, the council made the process unfair on him and other objectors by not publishing a key noise assessment on the issue well in advance of the committee hearing.

The judge said that this 74-page document was only published on the council’s website 36 hours ahead of the committee meeting, which fell short of its duty to give a "reasonable time" for interested parties to consider the material in order to make representations on it.

In addition, the judge found that the council wrongly treated all seven properties at Brackenside Farm as having a "financial interest" in the turbine, which meant that a higher tolerable noise limit was applied for those properties in the decision-making process.

The council took that view because all six are owned by Barber’s company, R&J Barber Farms, but the judge said that while Barber and his wife live in one, and their son and his wife live in another, three more cottages are rented out, another property is occupied by a retired farm worker and the seventh is let out as holiday accommodation.

Finding that the council had made a wrong assumption, he said: "The applicant’s tenants do not have a financial involvement by virtue of the applicant’s own financial involvement".

Whilst the difference in noise limits between properties with a financial involvement and those without – 45 decibels and 43 decibels respectively – may appear minor, he said: "However, the decibel scale is logarithmic and these differences are not necessarily small."

The judge said that Barber had explained to the court that he and his family wanted the turbine to help modernise their farm and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, that he had relied on a trusted noise specialist and that he believed there was "sufficient headroom" for the proposed turbine not to be a noise nuisance.

"Mr Barber’s frustration is understandable," he said. "However, for the reasons I have given I quash the planning permission."

Elsewhere, a man has failed in a High Court challenge to plans for a wind turbine "taller than St Paul’s Cathedral" only 500 metres from his home.

Benjamin Howell, who lives with his wife at Crake Hall, Shipmeadow, near Beccles, had asked judges to quash the decision of a planning inspector to grant planning permission for the 125 metre high wind turbine at nearby Laurel’s Farm.

But, while Mr Justice Cranston said today confessed that he was "troubled by a turbine which will be taller than St Paul’s in London", he ruled that the inspector who granted consent had been entitled to do so.

He found that the inspector had "carefully assessed the impact" of the turbine on the landscape of the nearby Broads, and acknowledged that some harm would be caused.

But he continued: "However, he reached an overall conclusion that it would not fail to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Broads. That was a matter of planning judgment and in my judgment there is no legal flaw in this regard."

Waveney Borough Council had refused to grant planning permission on visual and landscape and noise grounds, with the proposal having been opposed by the Broads Authority, ten town or parish councils and many local residents.

R on the Application of Joicey v Northumberland County Council. Case Number: CO/347/2014

Howell v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Case Number: CO/2189/2014

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