Minutes of Special Meeting of the Planning, Development, Europe and Tourism Committee held in the Town Hall, Thurso on Friday 19 September 2003 at 12.00 a.m.
Mr A I MacDonald, Mr R Saxon, Mr J H Green, Mr G M Smith, Mr F R M Keith, Mr D Allan, Mr A Torrance, Mr R Durham, Mr R MacIntyre, Mr E C Mackinnon, Mr M Macmillan, Mr B Barclay, Mr J Laing, Mr W Fulton, Mr R Lyon, Mr J Gray, Mrs K G Matheson.
Non-Members also Present:
Mr D Mackay, Mr T Jackson, Mr D C M Flear, Mr W Fernie, Mrs I McCallum.
Officials in attendance:
Mr J Greaves, Head of Development and Building Control
Mr W Hepburn, Principal Planner, Planning and Development Service
Mrs R Moir, Principal Administrator, Corporate Services
Mrs R Daly, Committee Administrator, Corporate Services
Approximately 30 members of the public were present.
Mr F R M Keith 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 Mrs A Magee, Mrs V MacIver, Mr I MacDonald, Mr S J Shiels, Mr A Milne, Mr C L Goodman, Mr N Donald, Mr R Wynd, Mr A S Park, Mrs L MacDonald, Mr B M S Dunlop, Mr A Gordon, Dr M E M Foxley, Mr B Clark, Mrs O J Macdonald and Mr A R McFarlane Slack.
2. Erection of 10 Wind Turbines and Associated Infrastructure on
Land at Borrowston Mains, Dounreay, Thurso, Caithness by CRE
Energy (Ref No. 02/00166/FULCA)
There had been circulated Report No. PDET53/03 dated 8 September 2003 by the Director of Planning and Development on an application for the erection of 10 turbines and associated infrastructure, including transformers and cables, access tracks, drainage ditches, substation, anemometer masts, borrow pits and engineering works, on land at Borrowston Mains, Dounreay, Thurso by CRE Energy (a subsidiary company of Scottish Power) (Ref No. 02/00166/FULCA). The report set out (a) site details and a background to the development, (b) public participation and consultations undertaken, (c) an outline of the statutory development plan policies and other material policy considerations; and (d) an appraisal of the determining issues. The Director recommended refusal of the application, for reasons as set out in the report.
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, objectors and Community Council, undertook an inspection of the site.
Mr W Hepburn commented that, subsequent to the issue of the agenda, a late letter of representation had been received from Mrs C Spencer, raising awareness of the potential adverse effects of the proposed windfarm on grazing horses, which could be frightened by any unpredictable movements. He further commented that the applicants had indicated that, while they wished the Committee to consider the proposal as described in the report, if the Committee wished to see a reduction in the number of turbines and a repositioning of remaining structures, they would be willing to submit an amended application to that effect.
Mr Hepburn described the full extent of the application and explained that the turbines would be 60m in height to the top of the hub and 93m in total, including the blade. With the aid of a Powerpoint presentation, he displayed a number of images of the proposed development from different viewpoints.
He commented on the Structure Plan Policy G2 on design for sustainability and Policy E2 on wind energy developments. In relation to the latter, it was the Council’s intention that wind energy proposals would be assessed in relation to visual impact, noise, electro-magnetic interference, roads, bridges and traffic, aircraft flightpaths/MOD operations and cumulative effects. Other relevant Development Plan considerations were highlighted, including:
(a) Policy T6 on protecting important scenic views enjoyed from tourist routes
(b) Policy L4 on the desirability of maintaining and enhancing present
landscape character in the consideration of development proposals
(c) Policy A2 on encouraging proposals for farm diversification through adding
value and non-farming enterprises
(d) Local Plan Policy PP3 on a presumption against development where there
would be significant damage to heritage, amenity or public health.
National Planning Policy Guideline 6 supported renewable energy
generation and placed particular emphasis on wind power. Also, Planning
Advice Note 45 stated that it was important for society at large to accept
windfarms as a feature of many areas of Scotland for the foreseeable
The applicants were represented by Mr A Mortimer, CRE Energy, who spoke in support of the application. He explained that the company, a subsidiary of Scottish Power, was the second largest windfarm company in Scotland. He outlined the details of the proposed development, which would have a construction timeframe of 6-8 months and an operational lifetime of over 25 years. The proposal would create a saving of 40,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and would incur a capital investment of £12-15M, of which £2-3M would be tendered for through local companies. It was estimated that this would create approximately 50 local jobs during the construction phase. While he could not offer any guarantees, the Nigg construction yard had recently made successful bids to manufacture turbine towers and, therefore, the proposal could create further manufacturing opportunities within the Highlands. The company had considered approximately 200 sites and had chosen the Dounreay site for the following reasons:-
(a) good wind speeds
(b) easy access to the national grid
(c) the site had no formal designations
(d) there would be no transport difficulties
(e) the area was partially developed.
Mr Mortimer considered that there would be a limited effect on visual impact and illustrated this by a diagram showing the zones of visual influence. The position of the turbines in a grid had been chosen to reflect the linear pattern of the landscape and field systems.
While there were no technical objections to the proposal, other objections related principally to noise and the proximity to residential dwellings. On the issue of noise, the applicants considered that the windfarm would operate within national guidelines and would not be heard at a distance of more than 300m. Regarding proximity, there would be a distance of 650m between one of the turbines and a nearby house. This was not an unusual precedent and, in fact, there were 16 windfarms throughout the UK where turbines were closer to residential properties.
In conclusion, Mr Mortimer advised that, while the company wished to pursue the application which was before the Committee for determination, if the Committee wished to see a reduced number of turbines with an increased separation of the remaining structures, this would be acceptable to the applicants.
In response to questions from Members, Mr Mortimer commented that, while the company was prepared to reduce the number of turbines to 8, there would be no scope to reconfigure the layout of all 10 turbines within the site. On the issue of noise, he confirmed that the proposal would not exceed the national criteria on noise generation. Should a member of the public complain on noise grounds, this would, as a matter of course, trigger an investigation.
Mr Mortimer explained that the company aimed to use local contractors for such works as roads construction and cable laying. He anticipated an economic boost to the area of the order of £2-3M through sourcing of local contractors. He could not offer any guarantee that turbines would be manufactured locally, although there was clear evidence of expertise in the Highlands. He also confirmed that heavy loads would be shipped to Scrabster and then transported by road to the site.
Caithness West Community Council
Mr G McDougall, Treasurer, outlined Caithness West Community Council’s objections to the application as follows:-
(a) the vertical appearance of the turbines would be incompatible with the
horizontal linear nature of the coastal landscape
(b) there would be gross visual intrusion on the landscape for residents living
adjacent to the proposed site
(c) there were concerns regarding potential cumulative impact of windfarms in
the area and the proposed development would merge visually with the
existing facility at Forss and increase the visual impact
(d) Scottish Natural Heritage had commented that the proposal would result
in substantial significant and adverse landscape and visual impacts
(e) while the principle of NPPG6 on Renewable Energy Developments should
be supported, there were serious adverse impacts that could not be
mitigated and, therefore, the proposal did not meet the requirements of
(f) Structure Plan policy E2 was also contravened as the visual impacts were
considered significantly detrimental
(g) the landscape already accommodated two existing industrial features at
Dounreay and Forss, a third feature would render the overall landscape
even more visually intrusive.
The objectors to the application were represented by Mr D Spencer, Mr D Craig, Ms D Henderson and Mr J Webster who stated their objections to the proposal as follows:
(a) objections to the proposal had been made by local individuals as well as
from the rest of the UK, Europe and the United States
(b) the proposal was contrary to the Caithness Local Plan and to the Highland
(c) birds might collide with the turbine blades and the latter could disorientate
(d) the development would affect the scenic views from tourist routes and,
therefore, have an effect on tourism
(e) there could be potential for road traffic accidents to be caused as the
windfarm would be adjacent to a main road
(f) at a proximity of 600m, the proposed turbines would be unacceptably
close to occupied houses and breached the applicants’ own stated
guidelines favouring a minimum 1000m separation distance
(g) the turbines would create an unacceptable level of noise and the
applicants’ proposals for accurate acoustic modelling were not considered
(h) the proposal would raise health issues as a result of noise, shadow flicker
and constant proximity
(i) there were safety concerns about the potential for ice on the blades to
be thrown and for loose blades to be propelled from the turbine structures
(j) tourists preferred to see unspoilt scenery along a coastline
(k) a reduction in the number of turbines would not counter any existing
(l) working dogs were already frightened of the Forss windfarm and the
situation might worsen if there were more turbines.
In response to questions, objectors commented that they had carried out a local survey of 30 households, 23 of which had responded and objected. Since objections had been received from abroad, it was inferred that there could be adverse effects on tourism.
In response to objectors’ comments, Mr Mortimer confirmed that studies had been carried out to highlight the times of the year when migrating geese were present in the area. This position would be monitored closely and the company was confident that the presence of migrating geese would not hinder the operation of the windfarm. Noise assessments had been carried out by independent consultants and concluded that the windfarm would operate within the nationally acceptable criteria. The Council had previously agreed not to adopt prescriptive separation distances, and, therefore, the Council would have to consider the proposal on its own merits. Further, a recent Mori poll had concluded that many tourists considered windfarms as an attraction. The concern raised about ice being hurled off the blades would not be an issue as ice would cause the windfarm to be shut down temporarily.
Summing Up and Discussion
Mr Hepburn presented his recommendation to refuse the application. He commented on the Development Plan provisions and set out specific issues for consideration. The relationship to the Dounreay Nuclear Establishment in terms of wind turbine operation was no longer an issue, as UKAEA had withdrawn their objections to the proposal. Further, the Council’s Environmental Health Officers were satisfied that noise levels predicted by the applicant would meet technical guidance criteria.
Of greater significance, however, was the potential landscape impact on the character of this part of the Caithness coast. Scottish Natural Heritage had commented that there would be an adverse visual impact created by the development. Effects on landscape should be considered in conjunction with Structure Plan policy T6, which generally presumed against development on narrow areas of land between roads and open water.
The potential for cumulative impacts in association with the existing windfarm at Forss was a key issue for Members’ consideration. The proximity of the proposal to existing residential dwellings, potential visual dominance and the effect on residential amenity were also a matter for judgement. The Council had decided not to adopt prescribed distances between large turbines and houses. In this connection, Mr Hepburn suggested that there might be helpful mitigation if turbines 1 and 6 were omitted from the layout so as to reduce the linear extent of the wind farm. It might also be helpful to nearby housing if turbines 7-10 were relocated. If Members were so minded, they could decide to approve the application on the basis of these amendments, with a remit to the Director to deal with the consequent procedural issues, including the drafting of appropriate conditions. However, on the balance of all the determining issues, he recommended refusal of the application as it presently stood.
During discussion, differing views were expressed. Some Members considered that the effects on the landscape, potential cumulative effects, overall visual intrusion and proximity to houses should lead to the application being refused in line with the recommendation of the Director of Planning and Development. The turbines would be considerably larger than any other turbines in the vicinity and reducing the amount by two would not make a significant improvement.
Other Members expressed the view that, on this issue of landscape amenity, windfarms could become part of the accepted landscape. The sea views to Orkney were already compromised by sporadic housing development. However, on the basis that the proposal would be immediately adjacent to passing traffic and housing, it was not acceptable as presented. A reduction to 8 turbines relocated within the site was preferred so as to create more of a balance and go some way to addressing some of the concerns raised by objectors.
After discussion, Mr A I MacDonald, seconded by Mr J H Green, moved that the application be refused in line with the Director of Planning and Development’s recommendation, for the reasons as set out in the Committee report.
As an amendment, Mr G M Smith, seconded by Mr M Macmillan, moved that the application be refused but that the applicants be invited to make a revised application for a reduced number of turbines and with better attention to visual amenity.
On a vote being taken, the outcome was as follows: –
For the Motion:
Mr F R M Keith
Mr D Allan
Mr R Durham
Mr A I MacDonald
Mr R Saxon
Mr J H Green
Mr A Torrance
Mr E C MacKinnon
Mr R MacIntyre
Mr B Barclay
Mr J Laing
Mr W M Fulton
Mr R Lyon
Mr J Gray
For the Amendment:
Mr G M Smith
Mr M Macmillan
The MOTION was CARRIED by 14 votes to 2.
The Committee AGREED to refuse the application, for reasons as set out in the report.
The meeting ended at 1.40 p.m.