Minutes of Special Meeting of the Planning, Development, Europe and Tourism Committee held in the Ross Institute, Halkirk, Caithness on Tuesday 19 November 2002 at 12.00 Noon.
Mr R Saxon, Mr J S Rosie, Mr J H Green, Mr G M Smith, Mrs A L Magee, Mr F R M Keith, Mr D Allan, Mr J W G Paterson, Mr D Philip, Mr M M Downie, Mr A D Sutherland, Mr J C Cole, Mr R Wynd, Mr R Lyon, Mr C L Goodman, Mr A S Park, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr R Severn
Non-Members also Present:
Mr A I MacDonald, Mr T Jackson, Mr D C M Flear, Mrs D J Steven, Mr W J Ross, Lou Wilkerson, Mrs M E Paterson, Mrs I Campbell
Officials in attendance:
Mr J D Rennilson, Director of Planning and Development
Mr I Hargrave, Acting Area Manager, Caithness
Mr B Hepburn, Principal Planner, Planning and Development Service
Mr T Foy, Principal Environmental Health Officer, Ross & Cromarty Area Transport, Environmental & Community Services
Mrs R Moir, Principal Administrator, Corporate Services
Mrs R Daly, Committee Administrator, Corporate Services
Mr J Gunn, Technician, Planning and Development Service, Wick
Approximately 20 members of the public were present.
Mr A S Park in the Chair
An asterisk in the margin denotes a recommendation to the Council.
All decisions with no marking in the margin are delegated to the Committee.
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr G Scott Moncrieff, Mr D R Green, Mr E C Mackinnon, Mrs C A Wilson, Mr R MacIntyre, Mr S MacKenzie, Mr W Fulton, Mr S J Shiels, Ms E MacDonald, Mr J Gray, Mrs J N Home, Mrs K G Matheson, Mr B M S Dunlop, Dr M E M Foxley, Mrs O J Macdonald and Mr A R McFarlane Slack.
2. Erection of 24 Wind Turbine Generators with a Total Capacity of 48 Megawatts of Electricity, and Associated Infrastructure, at Causeymire, Achkeepster Farm, Mybster, Watten, Caithness by National Wind Power and Innes Miller
Ref No. 01/00361/FULCA
The Committee NOTED that Mr D C M Flear was entitled to exercise a vote for this item in terms of Standing Order 13.2.
At their meeting held on 29 May 2002 the Planning, Development, Europe and Tourism Committee had agreed that, for the next 12-18 months, all applications relating to new generation wind turbine developments be determined by that Committee, meeting in the relevant local Area.
There had been circulated Report No. PDET76/02 dated 7 November 2002 by the Director of Planning and Development on an application for the erection of 24 wind turbine generators with a total capacity of 48 megawatts of electricity, and associated infrastructure, at Causeymire, Achkeepster Farm, Mybster, Watten, Caithness by National Wind Power and Innes Miller. The report set out (a) an outline of the present submission, (b) site details, (c) public participation, (d) consultations undertaken, (e) an outline of the statutory development plan policies and (f) an appraisal of the determining issues. The Director recommended that, in the context of UK government and Scottish Executive policy and the development plan, planning permission be granted.
The Committee NOTED that arrangements had been made for the Hearings Procedure to take place in relation to this application, for which guidance notes had been circulated. Prior to the commencement of the meeting, Members, together with representatives of the applicants and objectors, undertook an inspection of the site.
Speaking in amplification of the report, Mr Hepburn provided an outline of the location of the application, the details of the proposals, together with access provisions from the A9 Trunk road. He explained that the proposed turbines would be 60 metres high to the level of the hub and that the blades would be a further 40 metres, producing an overall height of 100 metres. He commented on the associated cumulative impact of this application in relation to an existing approval for two wind turbines at Forss and to 15 proposed turbines at Buolfruich, Dunbeath.
Members were advised of the existing relevant planning policies. Structure Plan policies were based on the sustainable objectives contained within general policies G1-G8, which covered such issues as design for sustainability, impact assessments and community benefit and commitment. Specific Structure Plan policies related to the Council’s support for renewable energy developments, particularly wind energy. In this regard, the Structure Plan stated that any such developments should be considered in accordance with visual impact, noise, electro-magnetic interference, roads, bridges and traffic, aircraft flightpaths/MOD operations and cumulative effects. Policy T6 stated that the Council would protect important scenic views enjoyed from tourist routes and viewpoints, particularly those specifically identified in Local Plans, with a presumption against development in narrow areas of land between roads, railways and open water.
The relevant government policies and guidance to planning authorities were explained. NPPG 6 (Revised 2002) on Renewable Energy Developments concentrated on the principle of wind energy and renewable energy developments. PAN 45 (Revised 2002) on Renewable Energy Technologies gave extensive good practice guidance towards the issues raised by wind farm developments. In particular, it addressed issues of visual impact and siting.
The applicants were represented by Mr I Miller (landowner), Mr H Malyon (National Wind Power), Ms L Guthrie (Landscape Architect) and Mr B Turvey. The applicants commented that the application site was presently part of the working landscape. There were good infrastructure connections to the national electricity grid and it was expected that a consistently high level of electricity could be generated. Exhibitions of the proposals had been held locally and it was considered that the proposal had not deterred residential development in the area. An Environmental Impact Assessment had been carried out which had proposed the positioning of turbines so as to be harmonious with the landscape. While it was accepted that the proposed windfarm would be visible from both the north and the south, their positioning sought to ensure that there would be no element of surprise.
In response to questions, the applicants advised that there would be a distance of 450 metres between the most westerly turbine and the River Thurso. Members referred to concerns raised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) in relation to the landscape effect and visual appearance of four of the turbines proposed adjacent to the A9. SNH recommended reducing the visual impact of the development by deleting these turbines. The applicants re-iterated that the siting of the turbines had been carefully considered to maximise their generating capacities and hoped that they would all be supported. While a reduction in the number of turbines would affect the economics of the development, it would not render the project unviable. The turbines had been deliberately spaced. However, if the application were to be approved minus the four turbines referred to by SNH, increasing the distance from the road of the nearest tower, it would be necessary to reconsider carefully the proposal to site an observation platform on that tower.
The applicants confirmed that as much labour would be sourced from the area as possible for turbine manufacturing. While it was not clear whether there would be a suitable tower manufacturer in Caithness, any suitable local manufacturer would be invited to tender for the fabrication contract. Discussions to this effect had been held with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise.
The objectors to the application were represented by Mr S Mills, Mr P Lewis and Mrs L Levack who stated their objections to the proposal as follows:
- there was no policy on how many windfarms could be accommodated in Caithness and, therefore, no indication of the acceptability or otherwise of cumulative impacts
- Structure Plan policy PP3 stated that the Council should presume against such developments if they affected the cultural heritage of the area
- the proposal would adversely affect the quality of life for people living in Caithness and ruin the visual amenity of the existing open landscape
- the landscape images generated of the proposed windfarm were not realistic
- the site was surrounded by designated nature conservation areas
- no formal responses had been received from the applicants, the application’s preparatory work had been inadequate and details had not been made known
- public consultation had been inadequate – adjacent properties had not been informed and two nearby businesses had not been consulted
- technical assessment of the application had been lengthy, suggesting that the application had not been carefully prepared
- insufficient time had been devoted to the bird survey as access had been affected by the foot and mouth disease outbreak
- construction details had been omitted
- the proposal would reduce the value of property and had already had an effect on property sales
- the proposal could affect the prospects for businesses recruiting personnel, as it would deter people from wanting to live in the area
- no proper assessment on the effect upon tourism had been carried out
- there was a fear of more windfarms developing in an uncontrolled fashion
- the proposal might affect mobile telephone and television receptions
- there would be no real benefit to Caithness
- the future of the farming industry could be jeopardised
- the proposal would cause deer to migrate onto other areas of land
In response to the issues raised by the objectors, the applicants commented that it was a common sight for livestock to continue to graze around turbines and the application was not considered a threat to local wildlife.
Summing Up and Discussion
The Chairman explained that, in view of the complexity of issues surrounding windfarm developments, the Highland Council had agreed to send a group of Councillors to visit windfarms in Germany. Those Committee Members who had been on the fact finding visit were present at the meeting.
Mr Hepburn outlined the planning considerations which Members were invited to bear in mind. On the issue of natural heritage, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had been key consultees, neither of which had objected to the application. Much of the site was the subject of extant planning permissions for peat cutting, which would have a significant visual effect upon the landscape if taken up in full.
There had been many objections on the potential for noise interference from the turbines. However, the Council’s Transport, Environmental & Community Services had reviewed government guidance on this issue. The nearest residential dwelling would be 2 KM from any of the turbines. At this distance, it was very unlikely that any noise nuisance would be created. While access from the A9 would be acceptable, it was not yet determined how the blades would be transported to the site.
On the issue of tourism, VisitScotland had recently completed research and it was still clear that this matter was very subjective. There could be no certainty regarding the likely impact of the development on tourism in the area. While there were grounds for caution, of recent surveys undertaken, it was at least common ground that wind farms were in general likely to be more acceptable to local people once constructed.
The effect on the landscape was a key consideration. The turbines would be very large structures which would create a visual impact. There could also be a potential cumulative impact in the context of 15 proposed turbines at Buolfruich, Dunbeath and of two approved turbines at Forss. SNH had not objected to the proposal but had suggested that the four turbines nearest to the A9 should be deleted. It was not considered that this deletion would significantly reduce any visual impact.
A further determining issue was the application’s compatibility with the development plan and government policy. On balance, the Director considered that the application was in general accordance with the provisions of the Development Plan and of government policy and guidance and had recommended that the application be approved subject to conditions and the prior conclusion of a Section 75 Agreement covering site restoration.
During discussion, Members expressed the view that the effect on tourism, particularly the cumulative effect of a number of windfarms, was a key concern. It was recognised that there were some parallels between this application and the windfarms visited in Germany. There appeared to be no reasons to refuse the application in terms of planning guidelines. While there would undoubtedly be significant visual impact, it could be argued that windfarms were graceful and pleasing to the eye and could be a tourism asset. Despite this, it was generally agreed that there would be a natural limit to the number of windfarms in any one area. The application represented a controlled development; proliferation of such developments was a separate issue.
Members commented on the importance of controlling the timing of construction and storage works and of securing the most appropriate access arrangements during construction, particularly given the potential impact on traffic on the A9 Trunk road. It was confirmed that SNH’s view regarding the deletion of four of the turbines did not constitute a holding objection. Overall, Members did not consider that retaining the four turbines in question would increase visual impact to an unacceptable level.
After discussion, the Committee AGREED that:
1. planning permission for the erection of 24 wind turbine generators with a
total capacity of 48 megawatts of electricity, and associated infrastructure,
at Causeymire, Achkeepster Farm, Mybster, Watten, Caithness be granted
a. the prior conclusion of an agreement under Section 75 of the Town and
Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 in relation to the restoration of
the site and other matters, as detailed in the Committee report, and
b. the conditions set out in the Committee report; and
2. authority be delegated to the Director of Planning and Development to
agree points of detail in further discussions with the applicants that might
affect the exact wording, but not the spirit, of both the Section 75
Agreement and the planning conditions.
The meeting ended at 1.45 p.m.