Peter Ridgway from South Lakeland's planning office confirms that at the meeting on August 1 the elected councillors had been expected to take the opportunity to raise any questions about the scheme which might need further clarification. "We had thought that the members would adjourn it and visit the site before deciding upon it," he says. Instead they voted to turn it down, recommending that the refusal be held back until the consultation period expired.
The project of three 400 kW Micon turbines at Lowick Beacon already has a NFFO-3 contract. Developers Yvonne and John Miller, owners of Lowick Common, had hoped to use revenues from electricity sales from the turbines to fund conservation and maintenance of the common. They bought the 300 acre common when it came up for auction in 1990 out of concern for its future. "We were very worried about what might become of it because we knew it was a valuable wildlife site. It has some very rare species, but although it is just outside the National Park it has no statutory protection," explains Yvonne Miller. They have tended the common ever since.
With help from Cumbria Wildlife Trust they had planned to provide for its long term future by setting up a trust fund with income from the turbines. "Wind energy would be working for the environment in two ways," she says. The three turbines were to have been installed on the area of least important habitat, claims Miller.
However, the planning officer's initial recommendation was for refusal. Visual impact was his overriding concern. The site's prominence, its proximity to the National Park, the cumulative impact with the existing wind farm at Kirkby Moor, and the isolated and elevated nature of a landscape unscarred by the impact of man, were all cited as reasons for rejection. "The local conservation benefits to the common would not have overcome the impact of the turbines," maintains Ridgway.
The proposal has generated its share of local controversy. Some 150 objections were sent to the planning authority. Yet the scheme also commanded considerable local support. It had the backing of Friends of the Earth and English Nature. Moreover, the district council received 120 representations in favour of the scheme. Ridgway claims that most of the opposition and support is largely orchestrated by two groups. "We have Country Guardian and adherents and its opponents Friends of the Earth who fought a pitched battle over Harlock Hill. They fought a pitched battle over Lowick and will do the same over Gunson Height," he says.
Nonetheless the Millers intend to fight on. "We will appeal," she says. "We can't give up because it is so right. I really feel we are doing the right thing."