Applause broke out in the council chamber on Wednesday as South Norfolk councillors agreed with local wind farm opponents that permission for the building of three 126-metre-high turbines at Hempnall should be refused.
But local councillors were in fact denied a democratic vote on the contentious wind farm proposals from TCI Renewables when the energy company took the application to appeal for ‘non-determination’, sidestepping local democracy by claiming their application had not been dealt with within the statutory timeframe of 16 weeks.
The decision will be made following a hearing conducted by the Government’s planning inspectorate.
Wednesday’s meeting of the Development Management Committee examined the plans and, going against the recommendations of their own officers, councillors decided they would have turned down the application, voting 7 to 4 against.
The meeting at the Long Stratton council offices, packed out with 198 members of the public, had heard representations from both sides.
Plans for seven wind turbines at Hempnall were originally submitted by Enertrag UK in 2008 but were rejected by the council and by an inspector on appeal. TCI Renewables took over the site in Bussey’s Loke and submitted fresh plans for four wind turbines, recently reducing that to three turbines.
Council planning officer Helen Mellors told the committee the application from TCI now addressed the concerns of the inspector in the previous planning appeal decision and that noise issues could be dealt with by planning conditions.
TCI Renewables were present at the meeting, but did not give a presentation, while two local residents spoke in support of wind energy and the scheme.
However, local parish councils, including Hempnall, opposition group SHOWT which represents 1,200 members, and individual speakers detailed their reasons for opposing the plans.
These ranged from the visual impact of the large turbines on heritage assets such as the Hempnall conservation area and St Margaret’s church, to turbine flicker and noise on local residents, in particular Thetford Farmhouse, and the impact on local ecology such as the bat population.
District councillor Michael Windridge said after the meeting: “In the history of South Norfolk Council no planning application has attracted such widespread and unwavering opposition.
“Hats off to my fellow councillors for courageously choosing to ignore the recommendation of the (South Norfolk Council)planning department and standing up to protect the precious flower of local democracy.”
County councillor Alison Thomas also urged the committee to “leave the opinion of whose professional opinion is best to the inspector”, while South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, in a letter to the meeting, said it was “the clear intention of the government to give greater weight to local views and decisions on planning matters.”
In a second vote, the committee voted ten to one for refusal on the grounds the turbines would have a cumulative detrimental and adverse impact on the local landscape and heritage assets, as well as on residential amenity with particular regard to potential noise issues.