Plans to build a windfarm on the site of an ancient Roman villa have sparked a furious row, pitching archaeologists against supporters of wind power.
The remains of the villa lie beneath fields outside the village of Tivetshall St Mary, one of the many Roman settlements which once dotted the landscape of what is now the modern county of Norfolk.
Coins and brooches have been discovered near the site and a mosaic and an underfloor heating system lie a few feet beneath the surface.
But according to opponents, the proposals by a German owned firm to erect six 125m high wind turbines on the site threaten to destroy what’s left of the villa and the ancient Saxon drovers’ track which runs nearby.
Donald Carmichael, of the Tivetshall Action Group, said: “We are extremely angry they are planning to do this on what is a very historic site and a much valued village amenity.”
The dispute is the latest in a number which have arisen across the country as a result of energy firms seeking to take advantage – frequently in the face of local opposition – of the Government’s support for wind power and the system of taxpayers’ subsidies from which it benefits.
It comes after a leading energy expert condemned Government plans to generate increased amounts of electricity through wind power as “wishful thinking” which is destined to fail, leaving the UK facing the prospect of regular and severe power cuts.
Professor Ian Fells, fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, last week published a report warning that Britain will lose a third of its electricity generating capacity over the next decade and that current plans by Whitehall for a huge increase in the number of wind farms will not be able to make up the shortfall.
Enertrag UK has submitted proposals to build the six turbines, each of whose rotors would have a diameter of 90 metres, on farmland south of Tivetshall and close to the villages of Shimpling and Dickleburgh.
Opponents say the turbines would be both visible and audible from surrounding homes, as well as threatening the area’s historic heritage.
Roman artefacts were first discovered at the site in the late 19th century, with reports of a mosaic and a hypocaust under floor heating system emerging during the 1950s.
But archaeologists have warned that the turbines’ foundations, each of which is 30 metres wide and five metres deep, would cause irreparable damage to the site, as would the underground cabling and infrastructure required to link the wind farm to the National Grid.
Norfolk’s archaeological service has urged that an investigation of the site should be undertaken, with the recommendation that the position of the planned turbines be changed should it be found that any of them would disturb the Roman remains.
Acting county archaeologist, David Gurney, said: “We would clearly oppose any turbines on the site of a Roman villa and we would want them relocated. There is some evidence of a significant settlement at the site, though we don’t yet know if it is one villa or more and whether there are also remains of bath houses, farm buildings, field systems and tracks.
“It is likely that once investigation of the area begins that other settlements would be found in the vicinity.
“We recognise the need for renewable energy, but our main concern is that these wind power developments are handled sensitively within the landscape and historic environment.”
Mr Carmichael, a retired oil company executive, added: “The Roman villa would be lost if they went ahead with this development. Not only that, but the location of the wind farm is close to surrounding villages and only 700 to 1,200 metres away from nearby homes.
“These wind farms benefit from huge subsidies, which is ridiculous, and the government and the energy companies are hand in hand because they are an easy thing to put up.”
Enertrag UK says each of the six turbines will provide enough electricity for around 1,000 homes a year and save 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
David Linley, Enertrag’s manager of projects, said: “Every local area is now required by Ofgen and the Government to generate its own energy. We cannot just bring it down from the north, wasting a lot of it on the way. The south is very crowded and it’s hard to find 400 acres of land more than 700 metres away from any property. There are a lot of villages and in this area a lot of Roman remains.
“But we will carry out an elaborate study of the area’s cultural heritage to make sure we are not going to damage anything. That may mean having to relocate some of the turbines.”
Enertrag UK is owned by Enertrag AG and Prokon Nord, who between them operate 1,000 wind turbines in Germany.