Windfarm plan appeal called in by Pickles
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has called in an appeal by developers behind a wind farm on the Somerset Levels in what could be a landmark decision for opponents of turbines.
The news comes amid mounting concern over the record numbers of schemes being approved and at the same time as French firm EDF Energy announces plans to revive a nearby scheme.
The Secretary of State has intervened in the decision on the scheme by Ecotricity for four turbines standing 400ft (122m) at Huntspill, which was subject to a planning inquiry earlier this year.
The move comes after the controversial Tory minister warned planning inspectors earlier this month he would be keeping a close eye on decisions to make sure new planning guidance was being followed and resident's concerns were being considered.
Opponents of the plant said the move by the minister raised hopes that the scale of opposition, which included hundreds of objections, would be fully taken into account.
Julie Trott, of the Huntspill Wind Farm Action Group, said she "remained hopeful" of a favourable outcome.
"He is going to have the final say and I would like to think he will look at all the complaints from local people, see how many are impacted and make his decision fairly based on that," she added.
"We had hoped the EDF one had gone away and although a planning application has not as yet been submitted, we are well prepared to fight any such application as vehemently as before with the reassurance that we have the majority of the local community behind us in our fight."
The application by energy supplier Ecotricity for four turbines, on land close to the M5 known as Black Ditch in West Huntspill, was rejected by Sedgemoor District Council's planning committee in April 2012.
The four turbines would produce 2.3MW each, collecting enough power from the wind for 6,769 homes.
Ecotricity has said it is optimistic that "after several years of detailed environmental assessments, it has identified a highly appropriate location for renewable energy."
A spokesman pointed out that the council's own planning officer had recommended the plans for approval.
He said some of the council's principal reasons for opposing the scheme have either been addressed through mitigation measures or are no longer valid.
The Planning Inspectorate confirmed that inspector George Baird would now prepare a report for Mr Pickles, who has decided to "determine it himself". A spokesman said Mr Pickles would rule on the appeal, by Next Generation Ltd, relating to a site south of Poplar Farm, before January 29 next year.
In a separate move, EDF Energy Renewables have said they are to resubmit a fresh planning application at Withy Grove, East Huntspill, after an original scheme for five turbines was also rejected by councillors. The firm has announced two public consultation events on Wednesday and Thursday this week, at Woolavington Village Hall then at East Huntspill Village Hall, both beginning at 11am.