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19 July, 2004

Tilting at windmills

In his column in today's Guardian, Roy Hattersley has come out as a supporter of wind farms, for aesthetic reasons - irrespective of the economic considerations, he quite simply likes the way they look and interact with the countryside.  Not the most public-spirited argument, but valid.

I won't elaborate on whether I agree (in this posting, anyway), but Hattersley makes a couple of interesting observations about rural development.  They're not necessarily novel, as I've held similar views for at least a decade, but I've never really articulated them myself.

First, they have not been blessed by antiquity. Anything that is old - no matter how ugly - we revere. Watch the heritage programmes that fail to enliven our television viewing and you will hear paeans of praise for the most ghastly buildings whose only merit is their decrepitude. Wind farms commit the unpardonable sin of being built on land that has 'remained undisturbed for a thousand years'.

The disturbance should be judged on its merits, not its age. Quarries that cut great gashes in the hillside look romantic a hundred years after the workings are abandoned. But, before the wounds heal, they are a visual tragedy. So are the prefabricated hutments that replace stone byres and barns half their size. They would offend the eye wherever they were built. If wind farms appeared in towns, they would be said to enhance the urban skyline. They are offensive because they are built in the country.

The country is where a basically urban people believe they can find nature. And the second misconception that prejudices us against wind farms is the notion that nature is something that is untouched by human hand. Men and women are part of nature, too. Bishop Heber - who told us, "Every prospect pleases and only man is vile" - was a rotten theologian. If God made the hills and rivers, He also made the wind farms. And He made them beautiful.

Apart from the religious allusion, I couldn't agree more. Those who complain most about rural development are at best naïve romantics, at worst selfish luddites who'd like their little corner of England (since I'm addressing sterotypes, I might as well characterise them as 'little Englanders' rather than Brits) to emulate some pre-industrial idyll which was pure fantasy centuries ago.

Have another look at these photos. I'd like to think others would agree that engineering structures have a grandeur of their own.

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