A rift has emerged within one of England’s biggest rural charities over their support for onshore wind and solar farms.
CPRE, the countryside charity, came out in favour of the return of subsidies for onshore wind and solar earlier this year, effectively ending its role as one of the country’s most vocal opponents to their presence in the English countryside.
But several of the group’s regional branches, many of which act as independent charities, have called on the Government to reverse its support for reintroducing subsidies, and ban wind and solar developments on agricultural land.
The pushback raises the prospect that the return of onshore wind could bring with it a return to the planning rows that overshadowed its development in England, and slow the Government’s green ambitions.
“Wind turbines have been very disruptive to the landscape where they’ve been allowed. They do not in any way match the character of the British landscape,” said Mark Sullivan, the Chairman of CPRE West Midlands, who has written to 25 MPs with local constituencies. He added that solar farms are an “insidious” presence.
Mr Sullivan said the national CPRE, which shortened its name earlier this from the Countryside to Protect Rural England in a bid to broaden its appeal, had picked up a “green agenda”.
The letter is backed by the five West Midlands branches, and CPRE groups in Devon and Northamptonshire have also raised objections to renewable infrastructure.
Mr Sullivan argues that the national CPRE does not reflect its membership’s view on the subject, and says if wind and solar farms return to the countryside “the long and costly fights against them will resume.”
The national CPRE, which recently released a manifesto recognising a “climate emergency”, says there is a general consensus within the organisation for “renewables done right”, with local community support.
Polling by Ipsos Mori for the Conservative Environment Network suggests 77 per cent of the population, and 74 per cent of Tory voters support onshore wind, which made up around 10 per cent of the UK’s energy supply in 2019. Most current and planned wind farms are in Scotland. There are none in the West Midlands.
But CPRE’s director of policy Tom Fyans said it was clear renewable projects in the past had not done enough to involve communities in decision making and warned that the onus was on the industry and Government not to repeat mistakes. The group recently opposed the construction of the UK’s largest solar park in Kent, on the grounds it would damage the local landscape.
He said many members had “lost faith” in the system after their experiences with early onshore wind development and said it was “disappointing and deeply concerning” that promised “tough new guidance” on involving local communities had not come out.
“The beauty of our natural landscapes and solving the climate emergency must not be forced into conflict with each other,” he said.