“Vote Blue, Go Green”. It seemed like such a handy slogan when the Conservatives first introduced it in 2006. Not only would it “detoxify the brand” and wrong-foot the opposition, but it would also remind people of the party’s natural bond with the country and the environment: not just Conservatives but conservators….
Well that was the idea, anyway. And I do hope whoever thought of it has now retired to his study with a bottle of whisky and his service pistol because he bloody well should: this ill-advised adventure into enviro-loon idiocy has been the kiss of death for the Conservatives in their natural constituency the rural shires.
Here is one reason why.
The number of onshore wind turbines in Britain has reached 30,000 after increasing by 13 per cent last year, according to research.The disclosure has prompted suggestions that the wind industry is encroaching upon the countryside by stealth. The figure dwarfs the total that is commonly quoted by the industry, which currently stands at 4,399.The discrepancy is because the lower figure does not include the vast numbers of small and mid-sized turbines that have the capacity to produce less than 100kW of electricity each.The smaller turbines range from “micro” roof-top turbines to those that can reach over 100 feet tall and have been installed by thousands of farmers and landowners across the UK. (H/T to the Renewable Energy Foundation for spotting this)
Now every one of those wind turbines tells a story – one with which, as a country dweller myself, I am painfully familiar. It goes like this:
1. Greedy landowner wants to make a bit of extra money for doing bugger all. Decides to put a wind turbine on his land. It will ruin the view for miles around and upset all his neighbours. But where else can you earn around £30,000 a year (per turbine), index linked, just for sitting on your arse?
2. Sure enough, everyone in the neighbourhood objects to this potential eyesore. Resistance is disorganised at first, but little by little a campaign movement (such as this one which urgently needs your support: to stop a turbine being built where Prince Rupert’s forces slept the night before the Battle of Naseby) is established, which costs all involved an eye-watering amount of time, money and commitment. Still, these efforts are rewarded for, after much lobbying, the local council’s elected members – defying their in-house planning department – vote against the planning application.
3. The landowner appeals, as is his right under planning law. He also makes another application to the council, knowing that it will gain the full support of the planning department which, besides being ideologically in favour of renewable energy, is also following the government’s official policy. Meanwhile, the local campaign becomes more fraught, time-consuming and costly than ever – especially now that an expensive lawyer has had to be hired to fight the appeal.
4. The appeal is decided not by a local who understands the area’s needs, but by someone from the Planning Inspectorate which – again following the government’s official policy – is biased towards allowing renewable energy projects unless there are very strong reasons against. Likely at this point, the greedy landowner will win the appeal and all the community campaign’s time, effort and money will have been wasted. If somehow the community is lucky enough to win the appeal, the landowner will simply go through the whole process again, hoping to win the appeal on the next application he has made. Most likely he will win for planning law on wind farms is stacked very much in favour of the developers.
5. So the wind turbine finally goes up, despoiling the view for miles around, knocking around 15 per cent off the value of nearby properties, keeping people awake some nights with its intermittent, low-frequency noise, and making the landowner his cool £30,000 a year (most of it derived not from the value of the actual power he generates but from green levies added to everyone’s energy bills).
And which government bears the responsibility for these disastrous rifts within the rural community and for the ruination of the British landscape? Why the one led by Conservative David Cameron, which promised to be the “greenest government ever”, of course.
Which isn’t to say that some Conservatives haven’t performed well on a local level. Star of the anti-wind campaign has been my own MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who has schemed long and hard to make his party see sense on their renewables policy. Another hero is Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davis who is fighting to stop the turbines and pylons currently scheduled to wipe out mid-Wales and the matchlessly beautiful Shropshire border country. In the Cabinet there’s the great Owen Paterson and also Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, currently on a mission to veto as many new onshore wind projects as possible at the planning stage.
But with 30,000 bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes already littering the countryside, it’s surely a case of too little too late. Cameron – a countryman who really should know better – had his chance on becoming Conservative leader to dissociate his party from Labour’s disastrous green energy policies but instead chose, either from ignorance or cynicism, to not just to embrace them but to double down on them.
If future generations wish to stop and contemplate David Cameron’s legacy there are plenty of places dotted all over the country where they can do so. Just above the Warwickshire village of Priors Marston, for example, there’s a magnificent view down over the fields of yellow rape into the most gorgeous Midlands countryside. And bang in the middle of this view, so perfectly central and dominant it might be an out-take from a Wes Anderson movie – is a single wind turbine. It didn’t need to be there. It shouldn’t be there.
Thanks to Cameron’s “greenest government ever” it’s stuck there for at least the next twenty-five years, ruining the view, slicing and dicing wildlife, driving up energy bills, making one landowner richer and everyone else in the neighbourhood poorer. Rural communities are much closer-knit than urban ones. They don’t forget slights like this.