Lawyer takes wind out of turbine sails




Terry Macalister


The Observer




Richard Buxton wants justice for those affected by green energy plans, he tells Terry Macalister

A small Victorian terraced house in the centre of Cambridge does not look like the headquarters of a well-oiled machine that is threatening to derail Britain's fight against climate change.

And it is hard to recognise a scourge of wind energy developers in the smiling, white-haired gentleman who opens the door with a black labrador at his feet.

But to a host of renewable power operators, Richard Buxton is the "nimby-in-chief" who earns up to £300 an hour using his legal practice to scupper wind schemes across the country.

Last week the pressure was turned up on those who oppose renewables, when the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas blamed the "not-in-my-backyard" merchants for forcing the closure of its manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight. Meanwhile, energy minister Ed Miliband has accused wind opponents of being "antisocial".

Buxton, who has been involved in legal action against at least eight wind schemes, says he himself is not opposed to wind power, but he is happy to justify his work on behalf of clients who oppose particular wind schemes. "I am fighting on behalf of individuals but also sometimes local authorities and NGOs to ensure that the law is properly implemented. Wind may or may not help with the nation's needs, but we tend to find these things placed next door or too close to people's houses. They are disproportionately annoyed for the amount of electricity that is produced," he argues.

Last month the East Anglian lawyer sent Ecotricity back to the drawing board after his high court victory in a case to halt a planned wind farm development on a greenfield site at Shipdham in Norfolk.

Buxton is also providing legal advice to those opposed to other schemes, including one planned by RWE Npower at Romney Marsh in Kent, another involving MK Renewables near Milton Keynes and another in the north of Scotland.

He is incensed by the suggestion from Vestas boss Ditlev Engel that wind opponents are being selfish and unreasonable. "I think that the charges of nimbyism are unfair. People see other people making large amounts of money from having wind farms on their land while the neighbours have to put up with the consequences without compensation."

Buxton believes the government should introduce a national policy about where wind farms are placed and not leave all the decisions to private entrepreneurs and the local planning system. "If this is a national emergency and we need to put up 10,000 turbines, then let the government say it and act on it. Properties [close to wind farms] should be compulsorily purchased and the householders suitably compensated," he argues.

The British Wind Energy Association complains that dozens of schemes are stuck in planning inquiries or judicial reviews because of objectors and despite government attempts to speed up the process in order to meet its targets of generating 35% of the UK's electricity through renewables by 2020.

Nevertheless Buxton, who often works on a no-win, no-fee basis, says his sole motivation is to see justice done. "Overall, I think it is a good thing to have renewables but the government should do much more to compensate people, including the client of mine who was driven out of her home at Deeping St Nicholas [near Spalding, Lincolnshire]."

He has tended to issue legal challenges against wind developers on the basis that they have failed to properly assess the benefits and the environmental impact of particular schemes. As in the case at Shipdham, Buxton has concentrated particularly on the problems caused by noise from the turbines. He has also challenged schemes on the basis of the "flicker" produced by the turbines, saying it can be intolerable for local residents whose natural light is constantly distorted by the movement of the blades.

Buxton is no big supporter of wind power, questioning the size of the subsidies it receives and its efficiency, but it is hard to paint him as a threat to the wider environment.

He has fought on behalf of campaigners opposing night flights out of Heathrow and liquefied natural gas shipments into Milford Haven, and even worked for Buglife, a charity opposing a Royal Mail scheme to take over an old ash tip at West Thurrock in Essex, home to rare insects.

Buglife say Buxton has been good news for them, taking their case to the high court. A spokesman for the wildlife group said: "Ultimately, it is irrelevant what a lawyer thinks. The trouble is not lawyers - it's the UK law, which is based on the protection of property and the rights of individual owners rather than the common good."