THE planning process into the decision over the Navitus Bay wind park planned for off the Dorset coast gets under way today.

A preliminary meeting will be held at the BIC from 10.30am, concerning procedural matters and setting the timetable for the examination of Navitus Bay Development Ltd's proposals.

The meeting will also set the deadline for the receipt of written representations regarding the scheme, which could see up to 194 turbines as high as 200 metres.

East Dorset Friends of the Earth said that it plans to use today's meeting to seek “assurances that the positive aspects of the proposed scheme will not be ignored”.

EDFOE spokesman Dr Martin Price said: “We want to be assured that the economic, environmental and energy benefits of this scheme will be considered adequately.

“That includes being assured that the Inspecting Panel will have access to independent experts, to advise them on technical aspects of the claims by opponents of wind energy. We consider many of these claims to be spurious or alarmist.

“Over 40 years, East Dorset FOE has had a consistent record of opposing environmentally-damaging developments, and of promoting those which, on balance, will benefit local people and the local environment.

“As the Government recognises, local wind energy is essential to our energy and climate change strategies.

“This is enshrined in policies accepted by all local authorities in Dorset. Nevertheless, some local Councils and MPs appear to be happy to play politics with people's livelihoods, and with the protection of the local environment, in their objections to the proposal.”

The scheme has many critics, including opposition groups Poole and Christchurch Bays Association and Challenge Navitus.

Bournemouth's MPs, Conor Burns and Tobias Ellwood, have spoken out against the plans, as have several councils, including Bournemouth Borough Council, which has serious concerns over the potential effects on tourism.

Opponents have urged planners to listen to people's concerns.

Roy Pointer, chairman of Poole and Christchurch Bays Association, representing 50 residents' groups, said that “the sensitive location of the huge wind farm had attracted unprecedented opposition”.

He said: “It is not only the record number of respondents to the planners who are against this scheme. Those calling for the wind farm to be re-thought include UNESCO, the National Trust, the National Parks Authority, local business leaders, councils and MPs.

“Whether or not you support wind energy, this giant industrial scheme, with its skyscraper-tall turbines, is too big and too close to the Jurassic Coast and local blue-flag beaches. At the very least it should be pushed further out to sea so it can't be seen from our shores.”

Mr Pointer said the massive public response to planners reflected “the wide strength of feeling that the wind farm is in the wrong place”.

He added: “I hope planners take time to listen and respond to these very genuine concerns. There is a real fear, backed up by the wind farm company's own research, that this project would irrevocably damage the region's tourist economy.”