GOVERNMENT WEIGHS UP GIANT WINDFARM PLANS 11:00 - 25 September 2004 A planning application to build the biggest windfarm the Westcountry has ever seen has been submitted to the Government - including plans for two more turbines than originally expected.
A map has now been drawn up showing the locations in North Devon of 22 turbines - each at least 360ft high - which would spread over six miles and be visible from the Welsh coast.
After months of speculation, energy firm Devon Wind Power has submitted its proposals to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which will decide the application rather than local planning authority North Devon District Council, because the turbines will produce over 50 megawatts of electricity.
The council will be consulted on the application for the turbines at Fullabrook Down, near Ilfracombe - but the fact that the decision rests with the DTI has sparked fears among local people that their objections will go unheard.
However, a DTI spokesman yesterday denied that the Government was calling in the application to ensure it gained planning permission in the face of fierce local opposition. "We have not accepted the document as an official planning application as yet. We are scrutinising it to see if it meets our strict requirements," he said. "We do not automatically accept applications just because they are for renewable energy projects."
Devon Wind Power has claimed that the increase in turbines from 20 to 22 was "a direct result" of a public consultation exercise - something local campaigners have branded "ridiculous".
Local campaigner Sharon Gibbs said: "People are being hoodwinked into believing that these things are good for the environment. No one should underestimate what these plans represent - a major power station. Anyone who believes these things are being put up for the good of the environment is living in a dream world."
Andrea Davis, councillor for Henton Punchardon, said: "We are bitterly disappointed that the application has now gone in, and even more disappointed that there are now two more turbines than we expected. We won't let this happen. The idea that the public in some way wanted more turbines is ridiculous."
Coun Davis said that on two previous occasions applications for windfarms in the same area - both with shorter turbines - had been rejected by planning inspectors because of the need to protect the landscape. She said: "The landscape is too important, and that has counted for us before. We need it to again."
The development would produce 66 megawatts of electricity, enough to power around 40,000 homes. Each turbine would be at least 360 feet high, taller than St Paul's Cathedral.
In a statement, Devon Wind Power said that following a public consultation in the summer and an environmental assessment, the proposal had been "refined" to include 22 turbines. It also says the proposals for Fullabrook - first mooted in 1988 - are the most viable way for Devon to meet wind energy targets.
A spokesman said: "Fossil fuels are going to run out. Would people prefer a nuclear power station?"
Earlier this year the then Energy Minister Stephen Timms said that if North Devon District Council made an official objection to the plans a full public inquiry would have to go ahead. Both the DTI and council declined to comment yesterday on the possibility of an inquiry.