How Whinash saw off the turbines

  • @emilydugan

The battle of Lewis is not the first turbine war fought between environmentalists and those wanting to preserve a picture-postcard landscape in the countryside.

In 2005, plans to put England's largest wind farm in the rolling fells of Cumbria were met with outrage by local residents. The £55m development would have seen 27 turbines, each 377ft tall erected at Whinash near Kendal.

Despite the obvious environmental benefits of such a large-scale project, public opinion was starkly divided. Many were concerned that the development – which would have stretched for miles – would be too much of a blot on the landscape.

A six-week planning inquiry was held, and by March 2006 ministers had abandoned the project. The justification behind the decision – that the knock-on effect on tourism and the landscape outweighed the environmental benefits of clean power – satisfied some. But the news seemed an ominous sign that the Government was not prepared to stand by its own rhetoric on renewable energy.

Cumbria already had 11 wind farms, but none was able to provide the substantial energy the new project offered. Had it gone ahead, the Whinash wind farm would have been capable of providing enough electricity for 110,000 homes, and saved 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

But the location suggested for the turbines – just east of the Lake District, was never going to be an easy sell. And soon the voices against made it impossible for the project to move forward; all the local councils, the tourist board and celebrities such as Melvyn Bragg and Chris Bonington, added their weight to the campaign.

Given its location in the heart of some of the country's most picturesque scenery, countryside campaigners refused to see the issue in terms of its environmental benefit. Instead, the Campaign to Protect Rural England declared it "a step too far" in the quest for clean energy, while Friends of the Lake District said it would inflict "visual, cultural and economic harm" on an "icon of upland beauty and tranquillity".

To environmentalists it confirmed their worst fears. Friends of the Earth said it was appalled by the decision. Its director Tony Juniper said: "On the one hand, ministers say they support renewable energy. On the other they turn down carefully worked-out proposals that would have minimal environmental impacts while helping to fight climate change – the greatest threat of all."