Wind Power Hampered by 'Archaic' Planning Laws; Turbine Plants Close despite Green Drive

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Byline: KELLYMacNAMARA

WIND turbines are the symbol for the UK's green revolution -but, as factories close, the industry has warned it is being kept in the slow lane by "archaic" planning laws.

As the recession bites even harder on UK companies, Gover nment estimates that a burgeoning eco-industry could provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs were enthusiastically welcomed.

So the decision by turbine producer Vestas Wind Systems to close its Isle of Wight and Southampton factories was met with shock, not least from its workers.

After an 18-day protest in which some staff barricaded themselves into the Isle of Wight building, 425 people were made redundant, with a further 57 kept on to manage the closure of the sites.

The plight of the Vestas factories has sparked a debate about the future of green industries in the UK and the practical support given to firms.

Wind is a cornerstone of Gover nment plans to meet its legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 34% by 2020.

Renewable energy sources are intended to supply 30% of electricity in a decade, with wind taking up the lion's share.

Danish-owned Vestas hit back at accusations that it shunned Gover nment aid to keep the sites open, and said a lack of orders had forced it to make the move.

The factories originally supplied turbine blades to the US wind farm industry and were intended to switch to manufacturing for the UK energy market, but Vestas found a lack of demand.

The company blamed a combination of the "credit crunch, weak currencies and lacking political support at a local level" for the decision but added that it would consider reinvesting in the UK, should the market pick up.

It said its expansion in the US meant it was uneconomical and unenvironmental to continue transporting turbines from Europe to North America.

Vestas is the global leader in wind turbine manufacturing. Other big players in the European market include German-based Enercon, Spanish firm Gamesa and Siemens, which has facilities in Denmark and the US.

"The UK has very favourable wind conditions, but the present market is not large enough to justify the required investment to convert the Isle of Wight factory to produce blades for the UK market," Vestas said.

"In particular, the local planning process for onshore wind power plants in the UK remains an obstacle to the development of the market. …