Landowners and developers behind a large wind farm in North Devon may face a collective legal challenge from homeowners to seek compensation for devalued properties.
Energy company RWE Npower Renewables was given consent to build nine giant turbines at Batsworthy Cross last month. A planning inspector reversed an earlier council decision to turn down the plans.
Campaigners and their legal team are now scrutinising the decision and have said they are seriously considering an application to the High Court to quash the ruling on a point of law. Failing that, people living near the site, close to Exmoor National Park, are investigating the possibility of taking action if house prices are badly affected.
A leading estate agency in the area claimed property sales have stalled in the surrounding villages since the renewable energy plant was announced and said there is concern the area could be “blighted”.
Anita Allen, who owns the grade II*-listed Shapcote Barton Estate, at East Knowstone, around two miles from the site, fears a large chunk of the value of her £1 million-plus property could be wiped if turbines are built. Mrs Allen, whose 200-acre mediaeval estate includes national plant collections, said affected residents could join forces and make a claim for damages.
She added: “It is a possibility, though of course legal costs are expensive. There may be a chance of the whole community doing it collectively – it is something we have to look into.”
“A lot of properties around here are large and worth a lot of money – a listed building like this needs a lot of expensive maintenance and if it is devalued part of our national heritage will fall into disrepair.”
The Batsworthy Cross application was the first of four in the Knowstone area, in 2006, and the only one to be approved.
Plans for nine turbines at Three Moors and a further four at Bickham Moor were defeated after appeals in 2009 while an application for two turbines at Cross Moor was "disposed" of by the council this year.
Opponents thought they had seen off the proposal when planners at North Devon District Council turned it down but after an appeal and a public enquiry this year the refusal was overturned.
A planning inspector gave the go-ahead and ruled that any harm to the landscape was outweighed by the need for renewable energy, a decision which can only be reversed if an error in law can be proved.
Bob Barfoot, chairman of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in North Devon said he was hopeful a legal challenge could be mounted before the deadline in four weeks, adding that experts were “considering every single word” of the inspector’s report.
RWE Npower Renewables says the scheme, with its capacity of 18 megawatts – enough clean energy to supply 8,700 homes – will provide the local community with a windfall of £18,000 per year over 25 years, with local people having a say on how it would be spent.
Lewis Elder, the firm’s renewables developer, said: "We are very pleased that the planning inspector has agreed with us that this is an appropriately sited and designed wind farm.”
An estate agent in nearby South Molton has called suggestions that surrounding property prices would be unaffected by the turbines “eyewash”.
Stella Gerschwiler, a director at Geoffrey Clapp Associates, said: “To put a percentage on it is difficult but with a great big thing like that in the background who is going to buy your house?
“Agents who have handled properties around Fullabrook wind farm say anything closer than a mile has a serious problem – my personal fear is that the area becomes blighted.
“One house we had on our books was agreed for sale but fell through – they will never sell it now.”
Hopes have now been raised among concerned property owners by a protest group in Dorset who sent a copy of a letter it says was sent out to farmers near Blandford Forum warning of action under common law and the European Convention for Human Rights.
It claims one householder recovered 20% of the property value for “damage to visual amenity, noise pollution and nuisance due to wind turbines”.