People living in rural areas had a tough time under the previous Government; Local post offices and pubs were closed on a grand scale and subsidies for farmers were badly bungled.
Labour Ministers gave the impression that they cared very little about the welfare of the countryside, and understood the rural way of life even less.
Perhaps one of the most prevalent examples of this was on the issue of wind farms. People living in rural areas are every bit as interested in the future of our planet as those living in the most metropolitan parts of London. They care deeply about renewable energy and want to do their bit to reduce greenhouse emissions and help us meet our international obligations.
However, too often under the previous Government they were treated as a dumping ground for huge, overbearing wind turbines that towered over their communities. They were given little say on individual planning decisions and when groups of residents did manage to persuade local councillors to reject a scheme, often it was bulldozed through on appeal.
Thankfully the Coalition has stated that the planning rules will soon be changed, with local communities being given a far greater say on developments that impact on their way of life. This is certainly very welcome news to residents living in the small villages of Grange Moor and Birds Edge, in my constituency. In Grange Moor, they are fighting proposals to build two 47.5 metre wind turbines which if given the go-ahead would tower over their homes and change the local landscape for ever. I have supported them in their campaign and last week responded to the public consultation being run by the local Council. In Birds Edge, residents are opposed to the erection of four wind turbines which would stand some 400 feet above the ground.
I have also been calling on Ministers to follow the example of many of our European neighbours and introduce a minimum separation distance between wind turbines and local communities. Peter Luff MP did the same thing in his Private Members Bill last year. The idea is that when turbines reach a certain height they would be required by law to be situated at a specific point away from the nearest occupied dwelling.
This would allow wind turbines to be erected in suitable locations away from people’s homes whilst maintaining public support for the principle of wind energy, something that is absolutely vital for us as a country. I will continue to press for this law to be introduced in the coming months and years and in the meantime I eagerly await the publication of the Coalition’s new Planning Framework, which I believe will make a huge difference to communities in rural areas like mine.