AIRPORT bosses are trying to find out why permission has been granted for a wind farm which could interfere with their air traffic control system.

Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) and the Civil Aviation Authority both warned that building eight, 320ft turbines at Knabs Ridge - near Menwith Hill - could produce "severe disruption" to radar signals.

The £10 million plan by npower renewables was also opposed by Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) who claimed it would create a blot on the landscape just 50ft from the protected area.

Harrogate Borough Council upheld the concerns and turned the application down last year, but now a Government planning inspector, following a public inquiry, has overturned that decision.

The airport, which in a letter sent to Harrogate in 2003 warned that the turbine blades could "effectively blank out a large segment of the radar control provide by LBA", is refusing to comment in detail until it's had a chance to scrutinise the inspector's findings.

LBA Operations Director Andy Judge said: "We will not be making any comment until we have had the opportunity to study the report."

But Harrogate Council has had no qualms about revealing its disappointment at the ruling, with Councillor Richard Cooper, Cabinet Member for Planning, warning that "nowhere is now safe from development."

He said: "This decision flies in the face of common sense. For a Government inspector to come to our district and ignore all the good planning reasons why these towering metal structures should not be allowed is a smack in the face to local people and the council.

"Even safety fears voiced by the country's top aviation authority about the effect on air traffic radar were shunted aside.

"A large number of conditions have been attached to the inspector's planning permission but even these cannot really mitigate against such massive turbines set against such a picturesque and beautiful background."

The 197-acre Knabs Ridge site is 708ft above sea level and lies three miles west of Harrogate. The wind farm there, which will generate 10.4 megawatts of electricity (enough to power around 7,000 homes), fits in with the Government's wider strategy of hitting several renewable energy targets.

The Liberal Democrats are strong supporters of renewable energy and wind farms in principle, but Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland said he would be examining the inspector's ruling.

"I'm always concerned when the strength of local feeling is ignored," he said. "And with regards to the safety issue and the airport, which is within my constituency, I'll be contacting them to hear if there are genuine concerns and will certainly be looking into the reasons given for this decision."

LBA, however, did tell the inquiry that while it would have preferred not to deal with interference from the turbines it could, if necessary, ensure that safe air traffic control operations continued.

At the hearing, Harrogate Council argued that the wind farm would damage the landscape and the cumulative effect of the development, being close to the Menwith Hill US military base, would be to further "industrialise" the area.

But in his 27-page decision letter the inspector said that in balancing conflicting interests "the need to provide energy from renewable sources, as set out in national policy and the Regional Spatial Strategy, carries considerable weight.

"The proposed development would have some harmful effects on the landscape and in other visual respects such as spoiling the view from residential properties.

"Any adverse impact on aviation, with particular reference to operations at LBA, would be minor, and not such as to justify refusing planning permission."

Nidderdale AONB, meanwhile, is warning that the decision will have far-reaching consequences both for nearby villages like Kettlesing and Felliscliffe and to moorland walkers, who will be able to see the turbines from miles away.

AONB Officer Paul Burgess said: "We are very disappointed by this result, a decision that we believe flies in the face of assurances by Government that AONBs and National Parks should be protected from damaging wind farm developments."

The AONB also points out that it actively supports plans for small-scale wind turbines, and will be funding a research project to look into the potential of hydropower within the area.

Work on the Knabs Ridge wind farm is expected to begin next year.