Northamptonshire’s uncrowded and gentle landscape is in danger of becoming the wind farm capital of England, says Peter Stanford.
‘It’s undistinguished.” Bill Driver pronounces his verdict on the Northamptonshire countryside that is spread out in front of us from our elevated vantage point on the outskirts of the market town of Oundle in the east of the county.
It seems a bit harsh as judgments go, especially on the lips of one who lives here. The brightly coloured fields of oilseed rape may not be to everyone’s taste, and the local limestone of the houses is a bit harsher on the eye than its equivalent in the Cotswolds, but this is gently rolling farmland, with small ridges topped by the trees that once made up the royal hunting ground of Rockingham Forest. It is the quintessential English rural landscape, slow to change, with an overwhelming sense of space and the occasional church spire peeping up on the horizon.
“No, you’re missing my point,” Driver interrupts. He is the local spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). “What I mean is that it’s not distinguished by hills or any significant features. My wife’s from Yorkshire and she says that here the countryside is ‘neither summit nor nowt’. That’s why the steeples stand out. Anything would in this landscape. And that’s why Northants is called ‘the county of squires and spires’.”
Or used to be. The CPRE has now given it a new name – “the wind farm capital of England”. Because this undistinguished slice of the south Midlands lacks the sort of national designations that bring with them special protection – National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Green Belt – it is seeing a rush of planning applications to site wind farms. And 125-metre turbines will definitely stand out on this uncrowded horizon.
If all the schemes under consideration go ahead, the CPRE estimates that the county, though it makes up only 10 per cent of the East Midlands, will single-handedly meet the region’s target for renewable energy. “And the oddest thing of all,” says Driver, “is that Northamptonshire has one of the lowest wind speeds in the country.”