Standing at the Edge of despair
On Saturday morning, I parked my car at the National Trust car park for Wenlock Edge, just a few hundred metres from the entrance gates of Lea Quarry on the Church Stretton road, writes William Cash.
For about an hour, I enjoyed a beautiful if blustery walk with friends along The Shropshire Way, the 139-mile loop that is the county's flagship walking trail.
If planning permission is given today by the south Shropshire planning committee for a wind turbine at the Lea Quarry on Wenlock Edge, an iconic beauty spot which is part of Shropshire's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) the landscape will be tragically blighted for at least a generation.
Wenlock Edge is a 400 million year old limestone escarpment that forms one of the most iconic parts of the Shropshire landscape.
The rugged beauty of this extraordinary English landscape has been immortalised by AE Housman in A Shropshire Lad ("The wind's in trouble…") and set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in a work that captures the very essence of 20th century English pastoral song.
After about 10 minutes of walking, we reached the path running alongside the Lea Quarry where falcons were circling above the ancient nature site where Peregrine falcons nest and rare orchids grow.
Members of Shropshire Council's south planning committee were expected to make a decision today on the application by Edge Renewables to site the turbine at Lea Quarry. It has been recommended for approval by the authority's planning officers.
But 13 letters of objection have been received from residents, along with objections from Much Wenlock Town Council, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Much Wenlock Civic Society.
Many of the objections centre around a fear the proposed turbine will, if approved, be a blot on the landscape.
But Simon Lloyd-Jones, of Edge Renewables, launched a passionate defence of the proposal and insisted that would not be the case.
He said: "Edge Renewables do not endorse significantly large wind turbines, generally greater than 50kW, in a rural setting.
"We alternatively aim to promote acceptably sized turbines within the Midlands that do not harm the landscape while enabling the capturing of the renewable wind energy available.
"William Cash, the Shropshire landowner turned would-be Ukip MP, seems to understandably have an aversion to all turbines.
"This has stemmed from his campaign to protect his grade-I listed property in Upton Cressett from 85 metre turbines which were five times the height of this proposed turbine and would be clearly visible for miles. This is not the situation in this instance."
Mr Lloyd-Jones said the proposals had been reduced to a "single training turbine" in line with policies set down by the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
He added: "Guidelines recommend that one or two turbines up to 12 metres to blade tip and within 100 metres of existing buildings are considered acceptable, while turbines in excess of 25 metres to vertical blade tip or closely grouped turbines are not likely to be acceptable within the constraint boundary of the AONB.
"The turbine proposed is for business purposes and won't be run until a bird survey has been undertaken.
"It is 16.85 metres and will still be 10 metres lower than the top of the Wenlock Edge.
"The original quarry structures were in excess of 18 metres and these were far uglier than the proposed turbine and didn't affect the aspect or tourism of Wenlock Edge."
The site is a fossil hunters paradise as well as being a famous summer haven for butterflies, newts and other insects. The deep turquoise lake inside Lea Quarry is so unique that it can be seen from 25,000 feet on flights crossing over Shropshire.
As the Church Stretton official tourist website states: "The limestone of Wenlock Edge is of international repute as an example of old coral reef deposits. It supports an array of flowered grassland and ancient woodland, making the area an important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)."
Two years ago this famous quarry site was the object of controversy when it was sold to Simon Lloyd-Jones, the founder of Edge Renewables.
The National Trust, which owns seven miles of Wenlock Edge, had wanted to develop the quarry site into a nature and conservation wildlife park with canoeing on the lake but it was outbid by Edge Renewables.
Since then The National Trust – and the Shropshire Hills AONB for that matter – have showed little interest in the fate of this iconic part of Wenlock Edge. In particular, they have been largely indifferent to a controversial single wind turbine planning application which has surfaced again after a previous application for two turbines was opposed earlier this year by Much Wenlock Town Council.
Although not as high as other turbines which have been the subject of local controversy, this application is an especially worrying example of how the AONB is being failed by the county council and its own officers. Some 19 out of 20 applications in the last year, AONB protections have been ignored by the council who have recommended planning permission.
What is the point of having an AONB if its statutory safeguards are ignored by the council? Despite a 54 acre solar park at Acton Scott being objected to by councillors because it was in the middle of the AONB, the council recommended permission. No wonder the level of rural anger with the Government is so high.
With many large scale turbines being rejected by planning committee councillors due to the scale of local opposition, developers are now trying a new tactic of trying to get consent for smaller turbines.
But make no mistake, the tactic is to use such permission to litter the unspoilt Shropshire landscape with larger clusters of smaller turbines that will ruin the tourist appeal of our largely unspoilt county whose Core Plan states that our 'countryside' is our greatest county asset.
At a spectacular viewing 'viewing point' on my walk just a hundred yards or so from Lea Quarry, we were able to see out across the majestic and wholly unspoilt landscape of the Ape Dale to Caer Caradoc and The Long Mynd.
Councillors voting today need to understand the level of rural anger in Shropshire. Wenlock Edge should be considered a sacred part of the AONB.
Landowners may own the land but they do not own our Shropshire skyline or landscape. That ancient landscape is owned by all of us.
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