Vale residents would prefer fracking to wind power

The wind turbine at Marshwood School. The survey showed support for small-scale energy generation, but not wind farms
The wind turbine at Marshwood School. The survey showed support for small-scale energy generation, but not wind farms

Energy generation is an issue that affects us all. The question of how we heat our homes, cook our food and power our transport becomes more acute as fuel costs rise and climate considerations grow more pressing.

Sara Hudston reports on a parish survey in the Marshwood Vale that found support for fracking.

Fracking would be more acceptable than wind farms in much of the Marshwood Vale, according to a survey of local residents.

Almost a quarter of those who replied to a questionnaire from Char Valley Parish Council said that they would support fracking in the area.

The survey into people’s attitudes to energy generation found that wind farms were the least popular option, with strong objection also voiced to solar parks. People were worried that any large-scale energy generation would damage the area’s wildlife, landscape, farming and tourism potential.

Although the majority did oppose hydraulic fracturing, a significant minority (25 out of 101) were in favour of fracking on the grounds that it was the option that “did least damage to the landscape”. Many of the fracking supporters were also against wind or solar projects because they benefit from government subsidies. Eight of the 25 pro-fracking respondents thought that all forms of renewable energy were ineffective and should not receive public funding.

The suggestion that energy schemes could offer some form of financial compensation to local communities had almost no effect on people’s opinions. In fact, in the written comments section, a large number of people were strongly against such an idea, describing it as “bribery”.

When asked what might be the best use for contributions, people suggested a range of community ideas including a shop, high-speed broadband, mains sewerage and flood relief as well as housing and better buses. The suggestions reflected the very rural nature of the area where many homes still have septic tanks, public transport is almost non-existent and a swathe of households are outside the high-speed broadband programme. A few respondents thought money should go straight to local people themselves, either as a cash payment or through reduced electricity bills.

A solar farm near Marshwood
A solar farm near Marshwood

The only measure to receive a general level of support was micro-generation through solar panels on roofs, including farm buildings.

The surveys were sent out to 300 households in the Whitchurch Canonicorum, Wootton Fitzpaine and Stanton St Gabriel parishes and about a third of homes replied.

Parish councillor Carolyn Peck from Whitchurch Canonicorum led the survey. She explained that the fracking issue was a slight red herring as the whole area covered is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where fracking would not be permitted under current rules. However, she said: “People have very little confidence that being in an AONB would have very much effect when push came to shove.

“The solar farm at Rampisham was on a triple SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest] and there were questions about what was allowed in an AONB.”

Carolyn says the aim of the survey was to gather a representative sample of views that could be used by the district and county councils to inform future decisions.

She adds that the most surprising result was not the fact that people disliked the prospect of fracking rather less than they hated the idea of wind farms, but the lack of response from district and county councillors.

“Total silence is not what I expected. There was just a total silence whenever the survey came up; it was as if it had never happened. It was a major exercise in doing everything that localism was supposed to do and it’s been ignored.”

To read the results of the survey, go to the Char Valley Parish Council website » charvalleypc.co.uk

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