'Hypocritical' ministers reject wind power plan

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The role of wind power in the battle against climate change is in doubt after plans for England's biggest turbine development on the eastern fringe of the Lake District National Park were rejected by ministers.

To the dismay of some environmentalists, who believe the decision shifts Britain closer to a new generation of nuclear power stations, the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, and the Rural Affairs minister, Jim Knight, ruled that a four-mile development of 27 turbines on an exposed ridge between the Borrowdale and Bretherdale valleys should not be built.

The ministers said they accepted the outcome of a six-week planning inquiry that the effects on the landscape and its value for recreation would be so serious that they would outweigh the benefits of securing a renewable energy source and the need to address climate change.

"Tackling global warming is critical but we must also nurture the immediate environment and wildlife," said Mr Wicks. "This is at the crux of the debate over wind energy."

The division over plans for the Whinash turbines which, at 115 metres (377ft) would have stood taller than St Paul's Cathedral, reflect Britain's ambivalence about on-shore wind power's role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the green corner are environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, both supporters of the plans for Whinash put forward by Chalmerston Wind Power. In the other green corner are countryside groups including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Council for National Parks and the Wildlife Trust, whose president, David Bellamy, threatened to chain himself to one of the giant windmills in protest, if they were built.

Friends of the Earth said it was "appalled" by the ministers' decision. "On the one hand, ministers say they support renewable energy," said Tony Juniper, its director. "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. "

Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace, suggested the nuclear industry had been complicit in the decision. "Any government that wants to expand airports and turn down wind farms is simply not fit to govern," he said.

"I find it hard to believe that the nuclear industry has not played some role in this. Climate change will ravage beautiful areas like the Lake District."

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said Whinash had been "a step too far" in the drive for renewable energy. The Countryside Agency and the Open Spaces Society agreed, as did Friends of the Lake District. Andrew Forsyth, FLD executive director, said the plans would have inflicted "visual cultural and economic harm" on an "icon of upland beauty and tranquillity".

If wind power is to prevail over nuclear in the Government's energy review, it must demonstrate its ability to deliver a secure, competitive energy source - which means winning over the conservation lobby. Yesterday's decision could undermine the entire wind energy industry, said Simon Currie, head of energy and infrastructure at international law firm Norton Rose.

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