RURAL communities were described as suffering from “battle fatigue”, as a public inquiry into plans to create England’s biggest wind farm on land near Ramsbottom ended.
Planning inspector John Woolcock has heard evidence from Rossendale and Rochdale councils, Peel Energy and United Utilities - who want to add a further 16 turbines to the existing wind farm at Scout Moor, as well as representatives for surrounding communities which are opposed to the plans.
The results of the inquiry are not expected to be announced until early 2017.
But Tom Whitehead, speaking on behalf of several community groups in Bury, Rochdale and Rossendale, said that, regardless of the outcome of the inquiry, the planning process and subsequent inquiry has taken its toll on residents who do not want the turbines.
Ninety-seven per cent of respondents to the original application were against proposals to extend the wind farm.
Mr Whitehead said: “There have been so many turbine battles to fight, each one very emotionally involved and time consuming, that the communities are suffering battle fatigue.
“I would urge the planning inspector and the secretary of state to regard the significant level of objections recorded against this proposal as just the tip of a very considerable iceberg.
“As a professional town planner, used to dealing with large and complex development projects, I have to pay respect to the effort put in to this process by the community groups I am working with.
“These people have endured considerable stress and emotion, familiarising themselves with, amongst other things, hugely complex and technical matters on acoustic engineering, eco-systems, law and planning matters, to attempt to present a balanced case before the Inquiry.
“For nearly two years, all of this has been done while balancing jobs, families and a myriad of other personal commitments.
“When the applicant’s consultant team turns off their computer at the end of the day and stops thinking about this development proposal, the threat of the Scout Moor expansion continues to endure in the hearts and minds of the affected communities.
“I salute their dogged determination in getting to where they have today.”
Campaigners against the proposals say the amenity of the moor has been undervalued by Peel Energy, and that people would be adversely affected more than it suits the applicant to recognise.
The residents groups represented by Mr Whitehead view the wind farm as an eyesore and its expansion would negatively impact tourism and leisure in the area, they say.
They have also highlighted health and environmental risks associated with turbine noise causing sleep disturbance.
Andrew Newcombe QC, representing Peel Energy and United Utilities, said even though the scheme could produce adverse effects, that did not amount to a justifiable reason to refuse it.
He added: “This is a carefully and sensitively designed scheme which will make a material contribution to the UK Government’s renewable energy targets for the sub-region, the region and the country as a whole, while respecting its surroundings.”
Tim Leader, the barrister representing Rossendale and Rochdale borough councils, said the windfarm would be “a force for good”, serving the interests of the majority of residents in the area by providing a substantial amount of clean renewable energy.
The scheme would also enhance and protect an extensive area of peat moorland, including blanket bog, preventing the loss of an important source of carbon storage, boosting biodiversity and mitigating flood risks, argued Mr Leader.