A need for green energy does not justify destroying irreplaceable British history.
This week Spear’s is submitting its ‘Heritage and the NPPF’ briefing report for Greg Clark’s team of advisors at the Department of Communities and Local Government in Victoria. The results – based on research during our Save Britain’s Historic Landscape campaign, launched back in August before the Telegraph launched their own Hands Off Our Land Campaign (brilliant as it is) – makes for some chilling reading.
The sort that (we hope) will have Greg and his advisory team heading straight to the Bag O’ Nails pub in Victoria right next to the DCLG offices for a drink after reading. Our findings certainly sit uneasily next to the DCLG spokesperson who told the Telegraph on 4 January that it had ‘repeatedly made clear’ that it was ‘committed to safeguarding the natural and historic environment’.
He added: ‘The draft framework retains the protections already in place and puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected. Listing for buildings and scheduling for ancient monuments will continue. It also makes clear that a local council could not allow development causing significant harm or loss to an important heritage asset apart from in wholly exceptional circumstances with stringent tests needed to justify any such proposal.’
A few days after these claims, the Sunday Telegraph (yesterday) ran a disturbing feature on the six wind turbines that have now been permitted by a Government Planning Inspector which will desecrate the famous Northants battle site of Naseby – the second most important battle in English History and the battle that led the way to the birth of our soi disant Parliamentary democracy.
This decision – known as the ‘Kelmarsh Decision’ as it is on land owned by the trustees of the 3,000 acre estate of Grade 1 Kelmarsh Hall – was on 19 December. The Telegraph’s leader of 21 December called for Greg Clark, the planning minister responsible for re-drafting the National Planning Policy Framework, to ‘produce another draft that is more precise and better defined’.
As Spear’s has argued, a crucial area of the new draft NPPF that requires specific and urgent clarity is the positioning of wind farms close to heritage sites of national significance. Currently industrial wind farms are not addressed specifically in either the draft NPPF or the Localism Bill, the latter claimed as the government’s flagship vehicle for local democracy in the planning process.
Yet, despite government assurances that ‘heritage protection’ is not being watered down by the NPPF, the clear evidence of the Kelmarsh Decision – followed on 21 December by the Watford Lodge Decision which settled the fate of the famous ‘command centre’ Gatehouse, owned by Sir Robert Catesby where the Gunpowder Plot was schemed in 1605 – by planning inspectors demonstrates that the government’s blind goal of achieving ‘renewable energy targets’ is effectively nullifying both the very idea of ‘localism’.
It is also completely undermining David Cameron’s claim that ‘heritage’ is a crucial plank of his ‘Britain is Great’ campaign and must be safeguarded in the planning process. Heritage needs protecting as much as our priceless countryside, and is a hugely significant reason why so many people visit the UK ever year. One in three people say heritage tourism is the reason they come to the UK and over 80 per cent of all domestic visitors pay a visit to a heritage attraction while on a mini-break – the highest ranked of all leisure activities in the UK.
With Chris Huhne now promising up to 32,000 wind turbines, the need for some form of tightened heritage protection – and clarity as to where wind farms can be sited – in the revised NPPF is ever more urgent. Northamptonshire is now a wind farm hotspot with over 100 pending applications around the small village of Crick alone. The Watford Lodge site, to be built by the German owned Volkswind energy company, is within musket ball distance of the famous Ashby St Ledgers Manor, owned by Viscount Wimborne, where the Gunpowder plot took place in the Gatehouse.
Despite the government inspector Alan Novitzky admitting in his decision letter of 21 December that the Manor, gardens and parkland ‘provide a wealth of historic, architectural and landscape interest’, he concluded that ‘the public benefit of the proposals would outweigh the harm to the settings of the heritage assets’. In other words, EU driven renewable targets rule, to the detriment of irreplaceable heritage and landscape.
The Kelmarsh Decision is the same story. ‘The battlefield is of great significance as a heritage asset,’ admits Mr Griffiths in his decision letter, after inspecting the site on 10 October, adding clearly that the wind turbines would have a ‘distinct visible presence’, and would act as a modern ‘distraction’ from the open fields of the site, especially from such places as Rupert’s Viewpoint, King Charles’ Oak Viewpoint, the ROC Look-Out Post, Sulby Hedges and the Mill Hill Viewpoint (where the Living History Centre is being built).
The truth is that the cause of heritage is being marginalized at Naseby in the cause of commercial self-interest, as is invariably the case when the mouthwatering subsidies from renewables are involved. English Heritage’s strong objection to spoiling the setting of their own festival that celebrates the very best of English history could sway the inspector away from deciding that the call of renewables is more important cause than that of heritage.
The same verdict was reached by Inspector Paul Griffiths in his appraisal of Lamport Hall, also close to the wind turbines, another Grade 1 historic property with historic parklands and its Grade 1 Church of All Saints. ‘The Hall and Church are of very high quality architecturally,’ states Griffiths, ‘and have great historic and artistic interest.’ This group of heritage assets are of ‘the highest order of significance’.
Yet, after conducting what he refers to as a ‘balancing exercise’, the inspector – overruling the local council – decided that Chris Huhne’s renewable targets are more important, at the expense of any semblance of localism. Around the country, the story is the same, with our heritage being increasingly considered irrelevant by developers and local planning inspectors. In Shropshire, for example, another growing wind farm hotspot, there is a wind farm proposal less than a mile from my place, Upton Cressett Hall, the medieval manor where King Edward V (one of the Princes in the Tower) stayed on his way from Ludlow to the Tower in 1483, which is one of the county’s leading heritage attractions and the winner of the 2011 Hudsons Heritage Award for top UK ‘Hidden Gem’ heritage attraction.
Yet neither Shropshire Council’s planning department, nor Sharenergy – the developer, working with Natural Power, based in Wales – even bothered to mention the historic property in their planning documents, a clear breach of the statutory requirement to consult with English Heritage. The matter has been taken up with a formal letter to Shropshire Council asking for a full explanation as to why they did not consult with English Heritage, not even bother to refer to the famous Jack Mytton Way – the county’s flagship tourist and bridlepath trail – which is threatened by the turbines.
As Spear’s has argued before, there is a strong case for specially designated protection in the NPPF to safeguard the setting of heritage tourism assets of significance, in particular those that directly contribute to sustainable economic growth by being open to the public. The total number of mainstream heritage tourism properties in the UK open to the public amounts to approx just 1,100 properties in total (National Trust around 350, English Heritage around 400 and the privately owned Historic Houses Association core of around 350).
These 1,100 heritage properties play a critical role in contributing £12.1 billion to the UK economy, with £7.3 billion coming directly from visits to heritage attractions and museums. There are approx 400,000 listed buildings on the National Heritage List. These 1,100 properties – across the country – amount to just 0.25 per cent of all listed buildings. Yet these important heritage assets play a critical role in the tourist economy and sustainable economic growth.
There is a very strong case – as proposed by the National Trust for a return to a ‘presumption in favour of conservation’ for these important heritage assets of national importance that contribute so much to our national identity and economy. As Councillor Chris Millar, leader of Conservative led Daventry Council, said to me after hearing of the depressing Inspectorate Decision over Kelmarsh and Naseby, ‘Is the Government’s localism agenda dead in the water already?’
‘If the Planning Inspectorate are going to use the national renewable energy targets as the main reason for agreeing schemes no matter how inappropriate, inefficient and regardless of their impact on the area they are situated within, then is there any point in a local democratic planning process?’ he added. As things stand, the answer is increasingly worrying: ‘Not while wind farms are regarded as being outside the planning system.’ They urgently need to be brought back within the system so that the system can become fair and local democracy and the wishes of local people can be respected. After all isn’t that the whole point of localism?
When Greg Clark and his team meet over the next few weeks in their offices at the Department of Communities and Local Government in Victoria, or enjoy a sandwich over lunch at the Bag O’ Nails pub next door, they need to consider the implications of creating a planning system that is no longer a level playing field.
With the Planning Inspector always holding the ace card of EU driven ‘renewable targets’ which can trump any heritage consideration, it is clear that the planning system is undermining the very principles of creating a fairer and more simply planning system that the new NPPF was set up to produce.