– in the House of Lords at 7:31 pm on 15th October 2014.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the extent of onshore wind farming in the county of Northumberland.
My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully remind noble Lords that we are very tight for time in this forthcoming debate. When the clock says four, noble Lords will have had their time.
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this debate about onshore wind farming in the county of Northumberland. I should say from the outset that the idea of having such a debate was not mine alone but that of a group of Members of the House who live in Northumberland or who are very familiar with it and who care passionately about its landscape and its communities. I am pleased that members of that informal group are in the House today and plan to take part in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle and the noble Lord, Lord Wrigglesworth, have all been part of a combined effort to express concern about some of the negative effects the proliferation of wind turbines in Northumberland and the number of applications for further schemes which are in the pipeline have caused. I know, too, how concerned about these issues are the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and other Members of this House.
In bringing forward this debate, I should like to stress that we have had strong support from the Northumberland section of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Northumberland and Newcastle Society—an organisation now in its 90th year and which has, throughout its proud history, promoted the historic buildings and the special and beautiful landscapes of our part of the world. I know that the views of these organisations are shared by many local communities and by people in Northumberland who have been affected by inappropriate onshore wind farm developments. I also recognise the role of the local and regional media in highlighting these issues. The Newcastle Journal and the Northumberland Gazette have supported many local communities in their efforts to get a fair hearing for their views.
Let me say from the outset that, in my view, this debate is not about energy policy generally or about the role that renewables can and could play in our energy mix. Among the members of our informal group, we have not discussed these matters and probably have different views about them—certainly about the energy priorities that the UK Government should have. Speaking for myself, I see an important role for renewables. By coincidence, in the week that I was involved in lobbying a Minister in opposition to a particular wind farm scheme in Northumberland, I was also having solar panels installed on the roof of my home in that county.
I am also proud to be one of the city of Sunderland’s ambassadors. I applaud the efforts of that city in seeking to establish itself as a low carbon hub—indeed the Government have recognised it as one of the low carbon economic areas. I applaud its efforts in offshore wind development and its commitment to the Dogger Bank project which could be important both to our renewables commitments and also in terms of jobs in manufacturing and maintenance. Indeed, the four north-eastern ports of Sunderland, Seaham, Blyth and Tyne are all well placed to support offshore projects of this kind.
No, my Lords, this debate is essentially about onshore wind farms which are in the wrong places and which we feel should not have been given planning permission. It is also about expressing concern over the disproportionate amount of onshore wind in Northumberland and the fears of many of us that more and more developments are going ahead, despite the near unanimous objections to them from the county council and from local communities. I look forward to the Minister’s reply in due course, but she will appreciate that some of the issues raised in this debate also relate to the work of her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I ask her to commit herself to discussing our debate and the contributions made with her colleagues in the other department so that our concerns can be fully considered.
A lot of statistics have been produced by the Minister’s department and by interested organisations which, I believe, show how much wind farming there is in Northumberland compared to other counties of England. I shall refer to some of these. However, it is not just a question of numbers because, in a county such as Northumberland, with its distinctive landscape of sweeping views to distant hills and to its magnificent coastline, even just one wind farm inappropriately placed can have a damaging effect over a wide area.
Indeed, I first became involved in this issue when I took a friend up to the ancient hill fort, Ros Castle, to admire the outstanding view of coast and countryside from the top. It was a clear day and I promised my friend a superb view of Dunstanburgh Castle. I was utterly dismayed to find that the view of Dustanburgh’s very distinctive silhouette was totally obscured by phalanxes of turbines.
Another striking example concerns the ancient monument which we, rightly in my view, refer to as Northumberland’s Stonehenge—the Duddo stone circle in its tranquil and timeless setting. I was delighted when the Government decided not to defend the legal challenge in that case earlier this year, but the threat to this very special monument has not gone away as a further appeal to install a tall turbine has been lodged. Obviously I hope that this will be unsuccessful. I ask noble Lords not from the north-east to imagine what the national outcry would be if a similar proposal were being envisaged for Avebury, or indeed for Stonehenge itself.
Northumberland’s contribution to onshore wind capacity in our country is already very considerable and we produce far more than we consume. Northumberland’s consumption of electrical energy is just over 0.5% of total consumption, yet it accounts for 10% of all consented onshore wind power. From the department’s own figures, we see that our county has virtually twice as much onshore wind consented in our one county as in all seven Home Counties—Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex combined.
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society points out that over half of the counties of England have approved less wind than a tenth of that approved in Northumberland. In a perhaps entertaining statistic, Northumberland has apparently over 100 times as much wind capacity as that permitted in the home counties of Ministers of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Yet, despite such figures, there is an argument for saying that the terrain of Northumberland—due to the Pennine hills and the Cheviots—is not ideal for onshore wind because the fundamental wind resource is not strong. So why is there such huge pressure on this unspoilt county to accept more and more unwelcome developments?
Particularly worrying are the figures which seem to show that there are more examples in Northumberland of schemes which have been opposed both by local people and the county council and then subsequently overturned and allowed by national inspectors and therefore by national government. My understanding is that Northumberland has been overruled at a rate twice that of the next county in that particular league table.
We have also seen that the level of subsidies for such onshore wind schemes have proved particularly attractive to outside investors, but these same investors often have little or no loyalty to the local communities who have to live daily with the effects of the investment. It is true that such subsidies can be accompanied by pledges on the part of the investor to give a financial donation to some local amenity. However, this is little consolation to those communities where over 90% of the people objected to the scheme in the first place, and indeed such promises of local financial aid are often viewed as little more than a bribe. Sometimes these investors are seen as the new generation of Border Reivers—making a quick raid, for huge profit, and then disappearing without suffering the consequences.
Consumers ultimately have to pay for such generous subsidies, and this does look like an example of the poor subsidising the already well off. I should, however, like to pay tribute to those landowners in Northumberland who have resisted the temptation and refused the sizeable carrots dangled in front of them, and who have shown their concern for our landscapes, for our communities and for the future of tourism, which in recent years has become such an increasingly important part of our economy.
There is one other point which I have become aware of in the battles that have taken place on this subject. It is difficult in a county of low density and low income such as Northumberland to mount expensive legal challenges to the planning process. Therefore, I believe that those of us who are aware of these problems need to take every opportunity to highlight them.
I realise that time is short, so I say in conclusion that I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively not only to the points raised by speakers today but to the concerns of the people of the affected communities. Indeed, I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will visit the county, see the actual and planned projects that I have mentioned, engage fully in tackling the problems which have already been created and act to prevent further damaging schemes going ahead. I look forward to hearing what other contributors have to say in this debate.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, on securing this debate and on her eloquent introduction to it. She is truly a great champion of Northumberland and the north-east.
I declare my interests in the energy industries as listed in the register, and that includes an interest in opencast coal, so I am not against development in the countryside per se. As long as it provides good jobs, supplies affordable energy, does not stick up above the horizon and does not last for very long, I think it is an excellent idea.
Northumberland, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said, is an incomparable county. It is the county of Cuthbert and Hotspur, of Cheviot and Bloodybush Edge, and of Delaval and Dunstanburgh. The battles of Otterburn and Flodden, which are redolent of our history, have now been joined by less bloody but still very contentious battles, such as Fenrother, Wandylaw and Middlemoor. These are names of wind turbines that have been bitterly opposed by local communities. Virtually no community in Northumberland has been unaffected by these battles, and often it has split them, and families, right down the middle.
Yet Northumberland is, on the whole, bearing this pain on behalf of others, because there is no great net benefit to the county itself. These wind farms do not create great numbers of jobs, most of the profits do not stay in the region or even in the country, and they leave a legacy of high electricity bills, which go to subsidise the rich and are mostly paid disproportionately by the poor. Therefore, I challenge the party opposite to follow the courage of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, in questioning whether it really is such a good idea to champion this regressive policy.
Meanwhile, I would say that this form of energy is having very little measurable effect on the climate and is unlikely to do so. It produces very little measurable benefit for the bird life—in fact, on the contrary, birds such as eagles are often killed by these turbines—and there is no benefit for the landscape. Indeed, in particular it is blighting tourism in many parts of the world. Many people believe that Northumberland’s potential for tourism is being seriously affected by wind turbines.
And all this to provide electricity for others, because the juice goes south from Northumberland to provide other people with light. We are delighted that people in the south want to turn their lights on but, as the noble Baroness said, Northumberland consumes just 0.6% of England’s electricity but produces 10% of England’s wind energy. It is doing far, far more than its share. From wind electricity it produces 172% of its total electricity needs—in terms of ratio, double that of Scotland.
This issue is of course for the planners but the county council is often overwhelmed by applications. There are many of them. The council finds it very hard to get the resources together to deal with them, and it is in a very difficult position. It needs support and guidance from a national level on how to cope with this flood of applications. As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said, the county has a relatively small population to support battles of this kind.
I hope that the Minister will agree to look at this iniquitous imbalance, which was never envisaged when we embarked upon the dash for wind. We never envisaged that the weight of this industry would fall so heavily on one county rather than be distributed equally across the country. I hope that she will agree to look at the planning system to see whether there is some way of equalising the balance. Why must the people of Northumberland bear the brunt of this often bonkers policy? Why must we spoil our landscape so that rich landowners can grow richer and rich Greens can look more smug? As the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said, here is the final irony: Northumberland is not even that windy a county.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Quin on having initiated this debate so ably. I want to take an unusual and, one might think, improbable tack in this debate.
Everything today is simultaneously local and global, so I am going to look at the case of Northumberland in relation to countries that have a lot of experience of wind power: Denmark, Portugal, Germany and Japan. There is a remarkable similarity across the world in terms of the dilemmas and struggles that arise. I shall mention three here. The first is “Not in my back yard”, which is more or less universal. Most people in most countries are in favour of wind power but much less so if it is very close to them. The second, which is the opposite to that and has just been referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is also found almost everywhere. It does not have an acronym, so I invented one. I call it GMPML, which stands for “Get maximum profit from my land”. It pits landowners against local communities everywhere. Thirdly, there are real and justifiable concerns in many cases about the harm done by wind farms to areas of natural beauty and wildlife. All three are visible in Northumberland.
We can and should learn a lot from other countries that have a longer experience of these problems than we do. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that there has been so much turmoil in Northumberland, given the haphazard and erratic relation between the wind farm companies, local communities, local councils and national government. In my view, it is right that an increasing number of projects have been blocked. Radical localism, suggested by some, is not the answer. I agree with the recent report produced by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which calls for:
“A strategic, plan-led approach to developing renewable energy infrastructure, locally and across planning boundaries”.
We should note that there have been very rapid developments in offshore wind power—these are not remote; they are here—such as those involving floating platforms. Investing in developing or appropriating such innovations should be a key part of national energy strategy. Problems of corrosion are being resolved. Moreover, out at sea there can be far higher continuity of operation, compensating in some part for the higher initial start-up costs as compared with onshore wind power. What is important in Northumberland, as it is throughout the country, is to get an appropriate mix of all these elements.
To conclude on a comparative note, however, I suppose that I feel more favourable towards wind power than the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. There are some days, famously, in which Portugal has supplied more than 90% of its electricity from wind power alone, and that shows what can be achieved. However, I fully support the sentiments that have been echoed by the first two speakers.
My Lords, I strongly endorse the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, by my noble friend Lord Ridley and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. In case people think that we are protesting as nimbys who do not want these in our back yards, we are not. We do not mind having some in our back yards, but we do not want them stacked full of these wind farms. We are perfectly happy to have some, but we want a fair share rather than the massive numbers which have already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and others.
I want to dwell for a moment on the impact which this is having and will continue to have upon the very important tourist industry in the north-east and in Northumberland. I have been quite heavily involved in the tourism industry over recent years. I was chairman of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the destination marketing agency for Newcastle and Gateshead. I was chairman of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, the second largest arts space in the United Kingdom after the Tate Modern, and I was chairman of the Port of Tyne until 2012. All of those organisations had a direct interest in tourism in the north-east. It is tremendously important, accounting for more than £1 billion coming into the north-east. In a region suffering from deep economic problems which is trying to move rapidly into the 21st century with modern industries, the tourist industry is tremendously important to us.
Independent research by VisitScotland showed that wind farms are very unattractive to visitors, and indeed that they avoid staying in areas with wind farms. However, you do not need independent research to demonstrate the damage which these things are causing to the county. Some of the sites which have been affected by turbines have been mentioned, such as the site of the Battle of Flodden, Dunstanburgh Castle. Holy Island, of all places, cannot be seen from some sides without seeing a wind farm. Frankly, this is outrageous; we are seeking to attract many people to come to a region which is known for its outstanding natural beauty and its wonderful environment but which has been badly damaged by the turbines that have been erected.
I hope that the Government will respond positively to the plea we are making on behalf of Northumberland. We think we have our fair share, and are making an adequate contribution. I am in favour of the renewable energy sector, but I can tell you that in the Port of
Tyne the interest is in offshore wind farms. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, this is a rather better form of renewable energy than those turbines which are on land. The Dogger Bank is just off the mouth of the Port of Tyne. If substantial wind farms are built there, which I hope will happen—it is a pity that it has not started happening already—it will ensure a tremendous number of jobs and a tremendous industry based on the Tyne, which has strong engineering traditions. I hope that that will happen, but I hope that the Minister will give us some reassurances that this unfair and damaging incursion into Northumberland will be restrained in the future.
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for enabling us to have this debate. I am a proud Northumbrian. I live in Belford, at the heart of some of the lovely Northumbrian countryside. I am also a past captain and chairman, and now president, of Bamburgh Castle Golf Club, which was described by a national newspaper some years ago as arguably the most scenically beautiful golf club in the United Kingdom.
Looking down from the top of that course, one can see the grandeur of Bamburgh Castle and out to sea the wonderful bird sanctuary of the Farne Islands, where St Aidan spent some time as a hermit, and even beyond that to Longstone Lighthouse, made famous by the exploits of Grace Darling. To the left of that are Holy Island and Lindisfarne, with the priory that was one of the cradles of the development of Christianity in northern England. There is also a lovely castle designed and built by the Lutyens family, and a wonderful walled garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll. If one then turns to the west, one can look at St Cuthbert’s Way and St Cuthbert’s Cave, where the monks carried Cuthbert’s body from Holy Island on its way to Durham Cathedral. Beyond that is Ros Hill, where Earl Grey sat when he was Foreign Secretary and looked at his land that lay all around him and at the timeless beauty of Northumbria, which he adored.
However, if one now looks down to the south, there are 24 rotating monsters at Wandylaw and Middlemoor. Their approval by the planning authority as the result of an appeal strikes me as amounting to arrant environmental vandalism. They have destroyed the views of some of the loveliest countryside in Britain. As others have said, this is crucial because Northumberland has borne more than its fair share of these developments. I admit that the past captain of Bamburgh golf club once said that it is not windy at Bamburgh when the ball will stay on the peg on the 15th tee. We have some wind, but that does not justify the desecration of these views and of these important cradles of Christianity, which have been damaged by this development.
There was recently a proposal to put up a whole series more of these wind farms at Belford Burn. Happily, the county council planning committee rejected this application. There were 500 letters of opposition from people in the local community, and five letters in support. However, it is probable that, again, this particular application may be subject to appeal. One of the problems in Northumberland is that more appeals on applications for wind farm development have been allowed than in any other county in England.
I invite the Minister to draw to the attention of the inspectors the clear recommendation made last year by the Government that, when considering planning applications, more account must be taken of the views of the local community. The local community in Northumberland is implacably opposed, not to wind farms on brownfield sites or where they do no great damage to the environment, but to those which damage the untold beauty of a wonderful piece of scenery.
My Lords, last Friday I took a relatively short train journey from Waterloo to Winchester, in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. The journey took little more than an hour, about the same time as it takes me to travel through my diocese from Newcastle to the Scottish border. There was a striking difference between those two train journeys. Obviously, there was no beautiful coast or even the odd castle on my trip to Hampshire, and yet to me the most striking difference was that there was not a wind turbine—let alone a wind farm—in sight at all. This is hardly surprising when you consider that Northumberland now has more wind power capacity installed than 16 counties in the south of England put together. It is then hardly surprising that a recent survey claimed that 70% of the British public support onshore wind. The truth is that 70% of the British public live in places where they will never have to put up with the sight or the sound of a wind turbine, unlike the people who happen to live in the beautiful county of Northumberland. During my time as bishop, wind farms have proliferated across the countryside to an alarming degree.
The level of Northumberland’s contribution to the Government’s onshore wind targets has been disproportionately high, as we have heard. We contribute more than 10% of all England’s wind energy but consume just over 0.5% of England’s electricity. Nobody should accuse us of nimbyism. It is hardly surprising then that the message from this short debate is simply: enough is enough. The good people of Northumberland have had enough of onshore wind farms. That point has finally, if belatedly, been recognised by DCLG in recent guidance, which states that it does not mean that,
“the need for renewable energy … overrides environmental protection and the planning concerns of local communities”.
Of course, we all recognise the need for a greater reliance on renewable forms of energy. Our countryside needs to be protected, which is why the recent refusal of two more wind farm developments in Northumberland was so welcome, despite in one case more than £3 million being offered by developers to a small village community. Thankfully, the huge financial inducement—I will not call it a bribe—did not sway the local people. Money cannot buy what the residents are being asked to give up. That was the message of the local people. The trouble is that so many of the most beautiful parts of the Northumberland landscapes have already been scarred and disfigured, despite the fact that, as we have heard, the wind does not blow as well as in other areas of the country, and there being no evidence that I have seen that wind will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that we need.
We all have a duty and responsibility to care for our environment and to exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation. We are custodians of the future for our children and our children’s children. That is why I urge the Minister to take back to DECC the case for ending any further subsidies for onshore wind, especially in Northumberland, and for deploying those funds more sensibly and more wisely on other forms of renewable energy.
My Lords, this debate is on a serious matter because, bluntly, government-subsidised foreign companies are destroying Northumberland’s heritage. This must be prevented. We are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for raising the matter so eloquently.
Like so many things in life, it is the unintended consequence of a poorly thought out government programme being rushed through to try to save the globe from overheating through excessive CO2 emissions caused not just by fossil fuels but by the consequences of the huge growth in world population—an aspect that is seldom mentioned. It is quite proper in this debate to ask whether it is sensible for taxpayers and all users of electricity to continue massively to subsidise the erection of wind turbines, which can produce only sporadic energy and need coal-fired polluting back-up to support them, when there are alternatives. If the wind programme were going to save the globe, many of us might accept its harmful consequences, but the whole exercise serves no good purpose. It is estimated that it will cost some £4,000 per family over the life of the turbines. Consequently, many now doubt the wisdom of this regressive programme. That is the background to our county’s problems.
From the turbine developers’ point of view, Northumberland is a sitting duck because it has fewer people to complain and who can afford to challenge their subsidised ambitions. That may explain why Northumberland is chosen, but why do so many of its appeals against development fail when examined by departmental inspectors? These inspectors may be ex-lawyers or judges but they are human beings. They are encouraged by their departmental brief to help the Government meet their targets. Many cases that come before them are obviously borderline. They obviously regard the development near our historic Duddo Stones as a borderline case.
Like our local planners, they are wrestling with the two-way pull of government advice on the one hand and citizens’ objections on the other. So I hope this debate will be brought before them and will help them to take a more considered view of the two-way pull now that the Government’s targets have been met and Northumberland has had more than its fair share of development—a point so well raised hitherto in this debate. To date, they have taken insufficient account and failed to recognise adequately the seething anger within our county. The Government’s pledges on localism and respect for the regional view have been overridden, and with them our custodianship of our wonderful historic landscape.
The inappropriateness of the wind turbine programme should be at the back of every inspector’s mind when weighing priorities, as there are alternatives. In Northumberland, we have lived for 40 years within a few miles of massive nuclear power stations, which have quietly and safely produced some 7% of the country’s need for electricity throughout that period. New forms of nuclear power—small modular reactors, factory-built and inherently safe—are on their way. America and other countries are pouring billions into their development, seeing this as a long-term solution to producing abundant energy that is relatively cheap and CO2-free. We can do the same in the north-east and create many jobs.
There are better, longer-term and more effective ways of reducing the world’s CO2 output. For that reason, we do not want to see the heritage of our beautiful county destroyed wholly and unnecessarily. The Duddo Stones are the north of England’s Stonehenge and just as old. We have had our fair share of wind turbines. As the right reverend Prelate said, enough is enough on all counts. Finally, this debate will have been worth while only if the Minister undertakes to make certain that any new briefing given to the planning inspectors draws their attention to the balanced arguments have been put forward today in the Chamber and suggests that they well regard them. Will the Minister assure us that that will happen?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for initiating this debate.
I received a few days ago a copy of the National Trust members’ magazine. In it was an article entitled Powering the Future. It talked of the role of that great industrialist and inventor Lord Armstrong, who introduced renewable energy to his home at Cragside in Northumberland, which is now owned by the trust. It was encouraging to read of the National Trust’s pledge to generate 50% of its energy use from renewable sources by 2020. I was also pleased to read the comment against a photograph of wind turbines on the Cumbrian coast near Whitehaven which said that,
“the trust supports the sensitive use of renewables such as wind turbines”.
I agree with the National Trust. The crucial word here is “sensitive”, which is at the heart of the debate. We should not allow visually intrusive development in areas of outstanding natural beauty. We should not lose the tranquillity that Northumberland is renowned for, and we should not damage tourism, which is such a fundamental part of Northumberland’s economy. I am pleased that Northumberland County Council is doing an impact study of wind farms on tourism to assess the perceptions of visitors.
The north-east like all regions needs to play its part in energy generation. However, I am grateful to the Campaign to Protect Rural England and to the Northumberland and Newcastle Society for pointing out in a letter earlier this year that while they are supportive of the development of renewable energy they feel that too many wind farms are being built in Northumberland, which has twice the megawatt consents for onshore wind generation of the nine home counties put together. They have a point; the wind does blow in the home counties.
We have to think very carefully, however, about energy security. I do not want the lights to go out and so I believe that we need to promote every form of sustainable energy that we can. We should note that last year, onshore wind turbines produced 5% of our electricity. They help to keep the lights on, supplying 3 million homes. A recent poll I saw showed that two-thirds of people support onshore wind energy production. However, as has been pointed out this evening, local people quite rightly want a bigger say over where onshore wind installations are permitted, and I am pleased that the Government have responded, delivering a fivefold increase in the benefits that communities in England can receive worth up to £100,000 per year for a medium-sized development. The crude block on onshore wind energy that some are calling for would seriously risk investment in the UK’s renewable energy market, which has the potential to create 200,000 new green jobs by 2020.
There are very few sources of energy that do not arouse strong opposition. Nuclear, wind and shale all have active opposition, but banning wind farms would drive up consumers’ energy bills because onshore wind is the cheapest type of renewable energy. At the same time, we have to protect our natural environment, so we need a balance between keeping the lights on and protecting areas of natural beauty.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will think carefully about what has been said this evening and I hope that it will be possible to have the discussion that the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, asked for. I find it hard to understand why Northumberland is producing 10% of onshore power while consuming well under 1% of the electricity generated by onshore wind. We have heard very clearly what the impact has been in some areas of outstanding natural beauty in Northumberland, and I hope that the Minister will take note.
My Lords, I know and love the Belford area and I objected to the wind farm there, just as I did to one in mid-Wales which is close to Offa’s Dyke and the grade 1 Repton-designed gardens at Stanage Park. Everyone has made the point that this is not about denying the need for renewables, but about trying to look at their value, particularly when we do have offshore as another possibility and, in the not too distant future, I am sure, wave power. Nothing is more certain in life than that while we are here, the waves will continue to come in. We need to look at these things because I feel that the dice are loaded against local people who try to object to a wind farm.
We have just heard an example of the kind of money people turn down in order to protect their local countryside. That should be combined with how much money people raise from their own pockets to fight these schemes. It really is a David and Goliath situation. I feel that one thing the Government could do is try to encourage inspectors to up the power they apportion to local opinion and beautiful landscapes. Trying to encourage further investment in wave power would immediately take a lot of pressure off the desire for onshore wind farms.
Like in Northumberland, there are a lot of wind farms in Wales and therefore in sensitive areas. I have to admit that the wind farms on old coalfields and in mining areas look beautiful and do not destroy the landscape, so I am certainly not against them per se. I just want us to look at those wind farms that are in sensitive areas that may not have been declared to be areas of outstanding natural beauty. That is a very important point. At the moment it is a loophole by which inspectors tend to find against objectors.
I was shocked to hear people who have been objecting in my area say that the only party that is representing little groups is UKIP. The Government should take note of that because it is a rather shocking thought. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, sitting opposite has said in the past that we must be sensitive about landscape and local opinion. My plea to the Government echoes the words used by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury at the finish of last night’s debate on bringing in women bishops. He simply said, “Listen, listen”.
My Lords, the decarbonised power sector is a prerequisite to tackling climate change and to achieving domestic and international commitments to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions. There is a place for all forms of renewable power in the UK’s energy mix, but they should be in the right place. Onshore wind is the cheapest form of generating low-carbon electricity and therefore must continue to be an essential part of the UK energy mix in order to limit the impact on consumer bills. Within this overall policy statement, however, there must be a balance between the various interests to establish the best solution in each individual development and locality. The planning system is meant to enable these contrasting interests to be taken into account. Guidance makes it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections.
However, something is clearly going wrong in Northumberland, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Quin for drawing attention to this problem in her much-loved county. While it may be the opinion of a Conservative former Minister in this House that renewable energies can be hosted in the north-east—or was that the north-west?—because not many people live there, my noble friend has drawn attention to the overwhelming concern of local communities that a disproportionate number of wind farms are in the area, to the detriment of many amenities that are vital to the visitor economy and tourism, even when cities such as Sunderland plan their future as a low-carbon hub.
Other contributors to this debate have drawn attention to the lack of strategic planning that would give balance to Northumberland and wind power more generally. In this it is instructive to look more critically at the guidance provided on renewables. Only last week, on
While Northumberland can be congratulated on its embrace of new technologies, can the Minister confirm any evidence that Northumberland is being unfairly targeted from a desire to meet our national targets by a disproportionate predominance of refusals to developments in other, more Conservative-dominated counties? What is the Minister doing to encourage other areas to host their fair share of renewable onshore wind? The case stated tonight has come across very strongly and it needs an answer.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, on introducing this debate. All noble Lords have provided measured opinion and well-informed views of wind farms, and I think that there is general agreement around the House that wind has to be seen as part of the diverse energy mix that this country needs. But I listened carefully to everyone who spoke in the debate and of course there are concerns about where wind farms are located.
I know that the noble Baroness does not want to refer to the energy policy, but part of the debate has to refer back to why wind farms are part of the diverse mix. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, we must have an energy policy that provides us with security of supply and ensures that we meet our national and international targets to reduce carbon emissions. The requirement for increasing renewable energy supplies is clear. Wind power provides clean energy and reduces our dependence on finite fossil fuel supplies. Also, as I have said, wind increases our energy security by reducing the need to import energy supplies from abroad. It also creates jobs and investment in the economy, with an estimated £29 billion invested in the economy since 2010. We need to increase the amount of energy produced by renewables to meet our legally binding targets by 2020 and the decarbonisation targets set for 2050 in the Climate Change Act 2008 by the previous Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, it is the cheapest large-scale renewable energy source. Onshore wind plays a vital role in its contribution to the balanced energy mix that we need. Renewables provided around 17% of our electricity in quarter 2 of 2014, with almost a quarter of this generated by onshore wind.
Of course, I will resist the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, referring to my colleague, because those comments were not helpful. We are to look at how we can improve the powers that local communities have and I think that was what the noble Baroness was asking me to take away from this debate today. Of course, wherever turbines are going to be located, the communities concerned must have a greater say on whether they want them there. We must be clear that it has been this Government who have taken those concerns very seriously, listened hard to what communities have said and taken action to respond to those communities, given that a lot of the planning for those turbines was already in the system when we came into Government.
We estimate that we need 11 gigawatts to 13 gigawatts of onshore wind within the energy mix to meet our goals by 2020. The UK pipeline of projects in planning and awaiting construction gives us confidence that onshore wind will be able to make the contribution we need. In Northumberland, I am told that there are four onshore wind farms awaiting construction and eight in planning. However, we should be clear that we cannot know that all of these specific turbines will be built. We know that not everything in planning will get planning consent and not everything that receives consent will be built. The planning system ensures that only well sited proposals are developed. Moreover, in addition to the planning system, through careful management of the levy control framework, we can ensure that only the most cost-effective developments are built, ensuring that we meet our deployment ambitions while delivering value for money to consumers. Ultimately, we have to look at that part of this very complex debate: what is the cost to the consumer in the round of energy?
Furthermore, we understand that some people have concerns about developments. Every noble Lord who spoke today has raised those concerns. We have been clear that onshore wind planning applications will be accepted only where the impacts are, or can, be made acceptable. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle rightly referred to the new planning guidance for renewable energy that was published last year. That will help to deliver the balance required by the National Planning Policy Framework, making it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities. Indeed, properly involving local communities in proposals that will affect them is a critical step in improving the quality of proposed onshore wind development. That is why we have made it compulsory for developers to have pre-application consultations with local communities for any onshore wind development of more than two turbines or where the hub height of any turbine exceeds 15 metres. This means that developers will need to engage very seriously with communities before even submitting a planning application.
Communities hosting renewable energy installations are playing a vital part in meeting a national need for secure, clean energy, including those in Northumberland. It is right, therefore, that local people should be recognised and rewarded for this contribution. That is why we worked with industry to secure a voluntary agreement that developers will contribute a minimum of £5,000 per megawatt per year to local communities hosting wind farms.
The tangible benefits from community benefits funds are clear to see. Some examples were quoted by my noble friend Lord Ridley and others of where they felt that turbines have been a blight, but Middlemoor wind farm in Northumberland has provided funding for roof repairs in the Eglingham village hall and learning resources, equipment and outdoor protective clothing for Little Acorns pre-school. There are other examples across the north-east and indeed the whole of the country where communities are seeing real benefits from hosting onshore wind farms. To improve the standards of engagement between developers, communities and local authorities for these developments, we published best practice guidance on
There were a number of questions raised to which I would like to respond before closing my remarks. My noble friend Lord Ridley seemed to be a little pessimistic about the creation of jobs, but according to industry estimates, onshore wind has supported around 17,000 jobs in 2012-13 in the UK. We in the department estimate that about £7.6 billion has been invested in the UK in onshore wind between 2010 and 2013, in 2012 prices. Since 2010, we have recorded announcements of £1.9 billion worth of private sector investment in renewable electricity in the north-east. This has the potential to support an area where we need to see job creation and around 2,190 jobs will be supported.
My noble friend also raised a question on the impact of these turbines on birds. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has noted in its own reports that the majority of studies indicate that bird collision mortality rates per turbine in the UK are incredibly low.
My noble friend Lord Vinson talked about planning practice guidance. Protecting the local environment is just as much a concern for the Government as protecting the global environment, but we are bound by targets that have been set within the Climate Change Act 2008.
Will the Minister assure the House that this debate is brought to the attention of the planning departments, and in particular, the planning inspectors? Unless they read this debate, it simply will not have the effect that we all think it should have.
My noble friend is absolutely right, and I have made a note to ensure that the Department for Communities and Local Government has sight of this debate, because it is really important. The noble
Baroness, Lady Quin, asked for that too. This has been an informed debate and it had a lot of personal ownership behind it. It is only right, therefore, that it is seen by my right honourable friend Eric Pickles and his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, so I will ensure that it reaches them.
Last year, we published new planning guidance for renewable energy to help deliver the balance expected by the National Planning Policy Framework by making it clear that the need for renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local people. The new planning guidance has been published to assist local councils and, on my noble friend’s point, planning inspectors in their consideration of local plans and individual planning applications.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton, asked whether there was a way to check decisions after they had been made in line with new planning guidance. On
In closing, the Government have three objectives for energy policy: to keep the lights on, keep energy bills affordable and deliver on climate change goals. Onshore wind will play a part in meeting those three objectives. To achieve the necessary change, we passed the Energy Act 2013 to provide the legal and financial mechanisms necessary to attract the investment we need. At the same time, we simplified and strengthened the planning process by creating the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that only appropriately sited projects receive consent, taking into account the needs and concerns of local communities—I re-emphasise that: the needs and concerns of local communities. Taken together, this Act and our reforms will enable us to deliver the energy infrastructure we need to secure our future at the right price and in the right place. I thank all noble Lords for an excellent debate and will ensure that what has been said is taken back to the department.