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Wind farms and tourism debate in rural Northumberland

Following local concern, Professor Tom Mordue led a research project to evaluate whether wind farms negatively affect tourism in rural areas of North East England. The research findings suggest that, despite fears from residents, there has been no serious negative impact and that visitors would happily return to rural Northumberland. These findings have provoked further debate as sceptics insist the results do not reflect the day-to-day experiences of local people and businesses.

Tom Mordue is the Norman Richardson Professor of Tourism at Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School. His team’s research is a response to significant public concern in rural UK tourist destinations that onshore wind farms negatively affect the landscapes their economies rely on. The situation is particularly prevalent in Northumberland – England’s least populated rural county and host to a national park, picturesque upland areas and thriving tourism economy.

Policy at a national level has sought to encourage the development of wind farms, yet the concerns on the negative relationship between wind farms and tourism has remained. Professor Mordue’s work was, therefore, commissioned through the Institute for Local Governance on behalf of Northumberland County Council, to try to assess the viability of these concerns as they sought to achieve a targeted a 6% increase in tourism, a significant plan to boost the local economy which would bring with it a 795 additional jobs and £42m in revenue.

To attempt to understand the problem the research team undertook a strategic analysis of previous studies, they conducted surveys of tourist opinions and those of tourism-related businesses, and also organised a focus group featuring twelve representatives of organisations interested in the impact of wind farms.

They found that although it is generally accepted that the installation of wind farms probably has made an impact on visitor numbers in Northumberland, most tourists would not rule out a return because of them. Indeed, only 11% stated that the presence of wind farms would potentially affect their decision to visit again. Of the total sample, 61% concluded that correctly-sited wind farms do not hamper the landscape.

Furthermore, the online survey of tourism-related businesses in the area revealed that 63% of respondents had not been negatively impacted by wind farms. Yet the remaining 37% do represent a significant number of negatively impacted businesses, indeed 33% of respondents stated their future investment decisions would be affected by future wind farm developments.

The impact of the research has been comprehensive, informing both the Northumberland County Council Strategic Plan 2014-2019 and the Northumberland County Council Economic Strategy 2015-2020. In addition, it has been included as a reference in the Council’s planning department for wind farm planning decisions.

Professor Mordue’s research clearly indicates a lack of alignment between what visitors will accept and the challenges for local people in wind farm siting and development. The enduring impact of the research, however, has been the opening of constructive debate in the local community, placing the matter firmly on the agenda for further public consultation. As similar issues unfold across Scotland and East Anglia, the team’s research will continue to be useful to residents and local policy makers to inform debates.

Societal Impact


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