09:00 - 14 February 2004

An MP has promised to challenge the possibility of more windfarms in three areas of Devon.

Torridge, West Devon and North Devon between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe have been highlighted as potential locations in revisions to the county's Structure Plan.

But yesterday John Burnett, Lib-Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon, said he could not understand why more windfarms were even being considered when wind turbines were a "failed technology" and there were mounting concerns about their effects on people's health.

"This should be challenged and I will be doing that.

"I'm surprised that there hasn't been a complete rethink about on-shore windfarms, given the fact that there is so much evidence that, far from reducing fossil fuel use, they increase it - because they only work 30 per cent of the time and have to be fired up by the power stations," said Mr Burnett.

The three areas of Devon are included in a proposed amendment published to the Devon Structure Plan 2001-2016, which has a deadline for public comment of March 25.

The change would mean: "Simplifying the renewable energy policy and extending the area of search where priority is given for the development of windfarms".

But yesterday Dr Ian Harrison, who chaired the panel looking into the structure plan, insisted the amendment was no cause for public concern.

He said: "It doesn't necessarily mean you are going to get any windfarms at all."

And he added that the county did not have a specific target for the number of windfarms, their locations or the amount of land they would consume. The South West region has been earmarked for the equivalent of around 1,000 of the existing wind turbines - or 240 of the far bigger "new generation" machines.

Cornwall already has seven windfarms while Devon has none - although several planning applications are pending.

Public fears of a rush to erect turbines across the countryside were fuelled by comments from the Energy Minister, Stephen Timms, that windfarm companies should "go out there and build".

But Dr Harrison maintained that the amendment to the Structure Plan was the result of ongoing consultation and did not reflect a change in policy.

It had come about because the previous draft plan had inadvertently created a "hierarchy" of renewable energy priorities with wind at the top of the list. This had been misinterpreted as promoting wind, said Dr Harrison.

The term "extending the area of search" simply identified areas where there were "particular beneficial resources of wind", he said.

Any specific applications would be subject to public consultation with the district planning authorities.

And these would have to meet strict conditions on the effect environmental effects and the possible impact on people living nearby, he said.