We Want Your Signatures to Save the Countryside - Spear's Magazine

We Want Your Signatures to Save the Countryside

We need your signature in a letter to the prime minister from business leaders urging the government to review its new and damaging policy on Britain's historic environment

THE REMOTE HAMLET of Upton Cressett, near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, where I live, was snowed in over the weekend. On Saturday morning, which was bright, clear and very cold – but the winter air quite still – I went for a walk with my dog, tramping through the snowy old deserted medieval village that lies below my house.

I headed off in the direction of Wenlock Edge across the ancient English pastoral landscape that so inspired AE Housman and Vaughn Williams. Exactly 1.2km from where I set out, in the middle of a field, right next to the Jack Mytton Way, Shropshire's most famous walking and bridle-path, I walked up to a giant 40 metre high wind monitoring mast that has recently been erected on a local farmer's land by Sharenergy, the precursor to a planning application for two Goliath like wind turbines.

If approved, these two modern EU subsidised industrial structures will destroy the intimate valley-like setting of the historic landscape and will earn the farmer in the region of £40,000 a year for the pair – regardless of angry local community opposition and irrelevant of whether they will actually heat any houses in the winter cold.

Just the week before – another snowy but windless day – I checked with the National Grid's 'UK Carbon Intensity' chart, which calculates how the country's energy needs are being met from various energy sources. At around 9.30am, the figure was gas: 39.6%, coal: 42.1%, nuclear: 15% and wind: 0.7%. Yes, well less than 1%, with hydro providing even more energy.
 
 
IT IS SUCH figures that so worry an increasing number of politicians, not the least since the departure of Chris Huhne, who, as Energy Secretary, was an evangelist for wind energy describing turbines as 'beautiful' and calling for the UK to have over 32,000 by 2020.

The trouble is first, they don't work efficiently; second, we can’t afford them; and third, they will destroy the precious countryside and historic setting of some of our most important buildings and heritage sites that David Cameron has been busy championing (in New York and Davos) as part of his new £39 million GREAT Britain Campaign that puts heritage at the very forefront of reasons for people to visit, live, work and invest in Britain today.

Spear's Save Britain's Historic Landscape Campaign – and 'Heritage and the NPPF' submission to planning minister Greg Clark – has exposed the inherent contradictions of the GREAT Britain Campaign alongside its anti-localism, anti-countryside, anti-heritage policy on wind turbines. On the one hand, the government is claiming to protect heritage, culture and tourism, while also championing a new planning system and pro-wind localism agenda that trumps all other environmental considerations – including heritage (as seen by the fiasco over the Naseby battlefield site which is now to become a 'wind turbine landscape').

The poison in the system – as we have been arguing for months now – is the government policy on wind turbines where the government is offering no clarity at all. Of course this idea is not only impractical but also dangerous as it would ruin the English countryside and send hundreds of thousands into fuel poverty because of the 'renewable obligation' 15% hikes to consumer energy bills – in order to pay for the massively subsidised renewable energy that doesn't come even close to producing anything like the energy supply this country needs.

So critical has the situation become that Chris Heaton-Harris MP has written to David Cameron personally citing the support of over a hundred Tory MPs who have become increasingly concerned over the government's seemingly blind enthusiasm for wind energy.
 
 
WE ARE INVITING Spear's readers to add their names to another letter that is being sent to 10 Downing Street to express the concern that the wider business community (including financial services) have in regards to the government's pursuit of unreachable wind energy targets that this country cannot afford. Apart from anything else, as we have argued before, there is nothing especially 'green' about wind energy – because of the way they are constructed, shipped, hauled and besides wind turbines need coal or gas back-up to keep the parts moving when there is no wind, especially when it is freezing.

Chris Heaton-Harris's cross-party parliamentary group has called on these subsidies to be drastically cut back as reliance on an artificially subsidised energy source of 0.7% contribution to the grid will never – not even by 2020 – come close to hitting any of the energy targets needed to keep the country supplied with power.

Below is a copy of the letter that the Chris Heaton-Harris's parliamentary group of over 100 Tory MPs sent to David Cameron:

To: The Prime Minister 10 Downing Street LONDON, SW1A 2AA

As Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, we have grown more and more concerned about the Government’s policy of support for on-shore wind energy production. In these financially straightened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore wind turbines.

In the on-going review of subsidy for renewable energy subsidies, we ask the Government to dramatically cut the subsidy for on-shore wind and spread the savings made between other types of reliable renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures. We also are worried that the new National Planning Policy Framework, in its current form, diminishes the chances of local people defeating unwanted on-shore wind farm proposals through the planning system.

Thus we attach some subtle amendments to the existing wording that we believe will help re-balance the system. Finally, recent planning appeals have approved wind farm developments with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it is impossible to defeat applications through the planning system.

We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account. Yours sincerely etc
 
 
SPEAR'S HAS BEEN asked to help collect some supporting signatures and names from the business and financial community who feel the same way. If you can lend support to our Save Britain's Historic Landscape Campaign, and are happy to sign the letter that is being shortly sent to 10 Downing Street representing the concerns of the business and financial community, please e-mail me directly: william.cash@spearswms.com. I will see that your name is added to our letter to the prime minister and also to Greg Clark, the planning minister responsible for the revised draft of the NPPF concerning which Spears was invited to submit its ‘Heritage and the NPPF' report a few weeks ago.

One of the most important points in Heaton-Harris's letter to Cameron is the group's calling for urgent revisions in the NPPF to give local communities – remember the Localism Bill? – a fairer chance of stopping planning applications that people don't want or are 'inappropriately' positioned such as, for example the historic market town of Bridgnorth whose new 'Town Plan' talks of 'maintaining Bridgnorth's heritage' as being a priority. The £12.1 billion income received from 'heritage tourism' is critical for the growth of the economy.

Yet, the truth is that a anti-Localism new planning system has been created that is all but impossible to defeat. As the author of the heritage paper which Spear's submitted to Greg Clark, the planning minister responsible for the NPPF re-draft, I see clearly that ever since the draft NPPF was published in July, the Planning Inspectorate (just a single government inspector) have been put under pressure from Whitehall to railroad through planning appeal cases regardless of 'local' community opposition, Local Council opposition, or any statutory body opposition – such as English Heritage.

Anybody closely studying the government renewable policies will realise that the Coalition seems determined to create an almost Soviet-style planning system in the UK where dissent is all but impossible when it comes to the EU march of turbines. In July 2011, in a little read document put out by DECC called the 'UK Renewables Road Map' makes it clear that Localism is irrelevant to the government's 'direction of traffic’.

The chilling document makes clear that the 54% approval rate for onshore wind projects in England needs to be dramatically increased, regardless of local opposition 'Developers remain concerned about the time taken to decide applications… This has led to a situation where many developments are approved on appeal – over 50% of UK sub-50MW onshore wind projects rejected by local planning committees are eventually approved through this route.’ The document adds: 'The Government will shortly consult on a new National Planning Policy Framework for England… The framework will include a new presumption in favour of sustainable development.’

It is this 'new presumption' that – quite rightly – so worries the likes of Chris Heaton Harris. Indeed, the only trouble with the GREAT Britain Campaign is what the posters and TV ads splashing images of Britain's famous heritage sites – including Stonehenge and dreaming spires of Oxford – are not telling the world is that Britain’s unique heritage and countryside is currently under serious threat from its own planning system with an increasing number of historic sites now at peril because of government inspectors overturning local council decisions and interpreting the new draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – and its ‘presumption in favour of development’ – as being the new planning law.

Even more disturbing is the extent to which our 'heritage assets' are now being bought off to large foreign owned conglomerates whose CEOs may enjoy showing up for tea with David Cameron at Schneider's in Davos but who really care very little indeed for what make Britain 'GREAT' – other than the UK's renewable energy targets making for a unique opportunity to make loads of money for themselves at our historic landscape's expense.
 
 
IF GREG CLARK does not specifically tighten protection for the approx just 1300 ‘heritage tourism’ attractions and buildings that are open to the public (and contribute £7.4 billion a year) Britain is at risk of becoming an embarrassing heritage graveyard. Back in October, we highlighted such fears with the example of how a government inspector had interpreted the new NPPF in exactly this way to allow development close to Grade 1 Great Coxwell Barn in Oxfordshire, one of the most important 14th century buildings in the country. Following that article, I met with Greg Clark who assured me that heritage protection would not being diluted in the NPPF.

Yet in December, the situation became worse with a flood of super-sized wind farms being approved that leave no doubt about the government’s true intentions when it comes to the EU march of the turbines – utterly regardless of how ‘exceptional’ the heritage. On December 19th Paul Griffiths upheld an appeal by German energy giant E.On which will desecrate the famous Northants battle site of Naseby – the second most important battle in English History which led the way to the birth of our Parliamentary ‘democracy’.

This is ironic as the latest decisions are single inspectors upholding energy company appeals against local democracy. At Naseby, E.ON are being allowed to build their turbines on land owned by the charitable trust of Kelmarsh Hall, former home of the interior decorator and socialite Nancy Lancaster. This was followed on 21 December by the Watford Lodge Decision. This allows a giant wind farm to ruin the historic setting of Ashby St Ledgers Manor, again in Northants, the home of Sir Robert Catesby where the Gunpowder Plot was schemed in 1506. The ancient Grade 2 * manor with was remodelled by Sir Edward Lutyens, with a garden by Getrude Jekyll, one of the 20th century's most celebrated landscape designers.

The UK planning system now increasingly resembles an unwinnable game of Top Trumps with a single Inspector being able to over-ride any heritage or local community objection considerations, however ‘significant’ or iconic, by invoking Planning Policy 22 (PPS22) which states that 'renewable energy’ should be ‘accommodated through England' to match the binding EU targets that the UK has signed up for, calling for up to 32,000 turbines by 2020.
 
 
WHAT IS SO worrying about the Kelmarsh and Watford Lodge decisions is the extent to which the inspectors are now freely admitting the extent of the harm their anti-Localism decisions will have on heritage. Grade 1 Kelmarsh Hall was built in 1727 by the architect James Gibbs and Pevsner describes the building as 'a perfect…done in an impeccable taste'. Inspector Griffiths admits that the house is of ‘the highest order of significance' and that the wind turbines will be 'an obvious presence’. Yet he states the ‘public benefit’ of renewables outweighs all heritage aspects.

There is an additionally disturbing point here about the Kelmarsh decision. You might have thought that the ten grandees who sit on the Kelmarsh Trust might be the sort of people that the nation might rely on to safeguard such iconic national heritage. The sort of people who would want to ‘preserve’ the historic setting of Kelmarsh Hall – not to mention that of the decisive battle of the Civil War.

 Not the least as the ‘aims and objectives’ of the Kelmarsh Trust are to ‘preserve, for the benefit of the nation, buildings and chattels of national, historic or architectural importance, particularly the buildings and contents of Kelmarsh Hall’. If you look up the 2010 accounts, further clarity is given on this point with regards to the protection of the ‘adjoining land which is also essential for the protection of the character and amenities of Kelmarsh Hall’.

The trustees, chaired by Peter Scott, includes such heritage luminaries as Gerald Cadogan, the archaeologist Gerald Cadogan, formerly of the British School at Athens; and Lady Nutting OBE, Chairman of the Georgian Group who has also served on the National Trust Council as well as being a Trustee of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Desecrating the Naseby battlefield site and inviting a German energy company to spoil the historic setting of the Hall seems an odd way to uphold its heritage principles. But if you look closely at the end of the Kelmarsh Decision you will notice that the invitation to E.ON comes with a price tag of £1.5 million in revenue alone. The Decision letter also refers to a £200,000 advance payment payable to the Trust, (a deal struck in October), before the turbines even go up.

Such selling off our heritage is now the price we are paying for blindly signing up to EU carbon targets as well as – long ago selling off our country’s airports, banks and energy companies to foreign conglomerates who do not care about heritage, only commercial self-interest.

The case for reform of the current NPPF planning draft in relation to heritage protection is both urgent and overwhelming. 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 economic growth by being open to the public.
 
 
FROM MY MEETING with Greg Clark, I have no doubt that he does want to create a balanced and sustainable planning system, and that he does not want planning development appeals and protests and legal battles up and down the country which will end up costing votes.

But unless he gets his advisors to maintain the safeguards to heritage, and – as Chris Heaton-Harris has advocated in his letter to Cameron – restores the spirit of Localism to the NPPF (its sister document), the postcards of this country that visitors will be sending around the world will soon be not of dreaming spires but rather an English landscape spoiled by short-term thinking and expensive legal battles up and down the country as the Tory rebellion turns to a rural revolution that will cost the Tories dearly at the polls.



 

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