We've toppled the turbines in Norfolk. But we had to go round the houses

Our national energy policy is big on emotion and hot-air, but small on common sense

Related Topics

While senior figures in the Government were making fools of themselves on their bikes or on trains, a rather more significant muddle has just been exposed. Few things matter more for our future than how energy will be supplied as fossil fuels run out, and yet one government after another flails uncertainly about the issue.

One moment, a cheerfully free-market approach is favoured, the next – as exemplified last week by David Cameron – government decides that it should control the excesses of the ruthless energy sector. As conventional power stations approach the end of their lives, and while consumers’ bills rise, confusion surrounds the whole question of future power.

None of which will be the slightest surprise to those of us who have seen how the new rush for energy works at a local level. By a small coincidence of timing, the latest Whitehall muddle occurred almost on the same day as the resolution of a smaller, more local uncertainty. After six long years, punctuated by reports and rows, meetings of the planning committee of the local council and finally a lengthy, lawyered-up hearing in front of a government planning inspector, it has been announced that to site three giant wind turbines just outside a south Norfolk village, dwarfing a Norman church and an unspoilt landscape, is not a good idea – officially and definitively.

With the relief and elation of victory comes a certain anger. Here is where the free market leads us, when it is bolstered by public subsidies and supported by a vague but powerful public mood that any kind of renewable energy, however inefficient and badly sited, is by its nature a moral good.

The would-be development over which millions have spent, causing untold stress and division among residents, was not selected by any public process. A landowner with an eye to the main chance contacted an ambitious energy firm. Because there was no overt restriction in the local landscape sensitivity study, they went ahead.

It must have made business sense to both of them, but it was always a ridiculously stupid place to put giant turbines. Houses were close by. The landscape chosen was an important amenity for the local community. A village church would be blighted. Unless it is now thought that human lives and the quality of countryside can, by the general nature of things, count for nothing beside the demands of energy, the plan should have been a non-starter.

It was always a ridiculously stupid place to put giant turbines

Yet, with a less committed group of local people, and a less responsive local council, it could well have gone ahead. Such is the pressure on the key quangos which are asked to give their expert opinion on these applications that organisations like Natural England and English Heritage have, when considering this kind of development, an in-built bias against the very landscape, wildlife and local culture they are charged to protect.

In the case of this development, none had any objection, but the local planning committee, consisting of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, rejected it unanimously. The energy company appealed to the Government’s planning inspectorate. Last week, the planning inspector supported the council.

Some might say the system has worked. Developers pursued profit; the local council and the planning inspector reined them in. But what an extraordinarily wasteful and unpleasant process it has been.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds must have been spent, millions of words written, countless hours spent so that we can all arrive back where we were six years ago. During that period, those arguing – rightly as it now turns out – on behalf of local lives and landscape have been vilified as selfish, while self-serving entrepreneurs have presented themselves as be-suited eco-warriors. It has been a bitter struggle which has divided the community.

Perhaps to others it may seem little more than an everyday story of local life, but right now it feels like a tiny, village-sized metaphor for a national energy policy which is big on emotion and hot air, but small on practicality and common sense.

Oddly happy books, about men

If, as Iris Murdoch once said, a novelist is “a dog sniffing the air before an earthquake”, then a startling development in American fiction should give us hope. Two of the most extraordinary new novels, Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods and AM Homes’s May We Be Forgiven, share little by way of theme – one a satire of sex and office life, the other a helter-skelter story of domestic disaster and redemption. Both writers, though, are women who tell their stories from the viewpoint of beleaguered middle-aged men. They are portrayed – I can hardly believe I am writing this – affectionately. The Murdochian earthquake is most unexpected. Could it be that fiction’s next big thing is optimism?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
The Public Accounts Committee found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing  

Nikileaks explained: The sad thing about the Nicola Sturgeon saga is that it makes leaks less likely

Jane Merrick
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?