MONTHS of preparation and thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has gone to waste due to procedural errors, which forced a public inquiry’s postponement.
East Lindsey District Council’s failure to inform interested parties about the Orby Wind Farm Inquiry, led the planning inspector to end the meeting without a verdict, just hours after it began at Hogsthorpe Village Hall yesterday (Tuesday).
The Orby Windfarm Action Group (OWAG) had spent months preparing for the inquiry and thousands of pounds on legal representation in the hope of bringing a decade of campaigning to its conclusion.
Group chairman Melvin Grosvenor said: “Like everyone else, I was frustrated and disappointed - it’s taken a lot of time and effort to get the inquiry to this point - it just adds another delay to a process that’s already been going on for a decade.”
Despite his disappointment, Mr Grosvenor hopes the delay could actually be a ‘blessing in disguise’ because when the inquiry is rescheduled, even more wind farm applications will have entered the system, enabling the planning inspector to consider their cumulative impact on the Orby proposal.
He has also refrained from condemning the district council too harshly, as he believes the vast number of wind farm applications it receives has put officers under ‘serious pressures, which makes mistakes inevitable.’
Portfolio holder for planning at ELDC Coun Craig Leyland has also partially attributed the error to the ‘incredible’ strains currently faced by the department.
He said: “We are in the unfortunate situation where we are often dealing with two appeals at the same time, which puts incredible demand on the officers.”
Regardless of the strains on the department, Coun Leyland has admitted it was ‘very disappointing’ and sympathised with the local community for the delays incurred, promising to investigate the matter fully.
With both sides of the inquiry appealing for ELDC to refund their costs, the applicant Mark Caudwell estimates the total burden on the taxpayer could reach tens of thousand of pounds.
He said: “It’s very unfortunate, there’s been a big slip up and it’s very annoying for everybody involved - both sides will be appealing for costs.”
Given these financial issues and the district council’s admission of guilt, other councillors involved with the inquiry fear it could damage ELDC’s reputation.
Lincolnshire County Councillor Colin Davie said: “After months and months of preparation, it’s astounding that simple procedural errors on the part of the district council has ground this whole process to a halt.
“The damage to the district council’s reputation and the likelihood of substantial costs to be awarded against them should send a clear message about the need to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.”
Locally affected residents have already begun to express their astonishment at the error.
Shirley Rogers, who owns a field adjacent to the proposed wind farm site, said: “How could they get it so wrong?”
The inquiry is hoped to resume in August, when opponents have expressed their renewed determination to return victorious.
Coun Angie Smith said: “I am confident that OWAG and ELDC will be ready to fight this proposed development when the Inquiry date is set once again.
“Localism is about local residents having their opinions heard and given weight.
“Even the Prime Minister has said recently ‘We shouldn’t be plonking wind farms all over communities that don’t want them.’
“After 10 years of fighting, it is extremely clear that Orby and the surrounding villages don’t want it.”