VAST swathes of Northumberland could be designated as suitable for wind turbine development through the county council’s new local plan.

However the areas, which include parts of the North Tyne, Rede and Allen Valleys, as well as land in Hexhamshire, Prudhoe and Stocksfield, would only be a starting point and any planning applications would have to meet a number of other requirements set out in the draft policy.

Plus, there are only limited areas – most of which are already windfarms – where large turbines over 40m would be acceptable.

Despite this, campaigners have criticised the council’s approach to the issue as the first public consultation on the draft plan drew to a close yesterday.

David Biesterfield, from the Northumberland Environmental Policy Group (NEPG) of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society, said the proposals risked “driving a coach and horses” through what the Government had set out in its planning guidance.

“Unless it drops this, the county council is going to invite a tidal wave of applications as soon as subsidies return, and we believe that’s much more likely than you might imagine,” he added.

The map shows that most areas of the county, apart from the Northumberland coast, North Pennines Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and along Hadrian’s Wall, are considered to be suitable for wind turbine development in principle.

The national park is its own planning authority and is therefore not included in the local plan.

The largest proportion of the land identified is for turbines up to 25m, with a smaller area for turbines between 25m and 40m.

The plan stipulates that they must be far enough from homes to prevent noise, shadow flicker and visual intrusion, and it must be shown that the development would not harm the landscape or views to and from sensitive areas, like the AONB.

But Mr Biesterfield and the society believe that these conditions would be undermined by the designation of suitable areas.

“In 2015, the Government made strenuous efforts to alleviate pressure on local communities like those in Northumberland in terms of wind turbine development,” he said.

“Before that, the society was successful in persuading the council that a criteria-based approach was far preferable to areas of least constraint, as they were very broad brush and effectively created honey pots where developers rushed to create wind turbines.

“The council, in its latest local plan (REN 1) accepts that there’s a serious conflict between identifying suitable areas for renewable energy developments and a criteria-based approach, but it then goes on to identify suitable areas only for wind turbines.

“It suggests that 66 per cent of the county, excluding the national park and the AONB, is suitable for wind turbines, when plainly it isn’t.”

The draft plan states that the impact on Northumberland for both residents and visitors, and the number of turbines already built in the county, have been taken into account.

A council spokeswoman said that the authority welcomed all views on the document. She added: “The council will consider all responses received during the consultation period.”

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