Scale of Windfarm Community Fund Not a Consideration

By Jane Cruickshank / July 1, 2021
windfarm with access track

A WINDFARM development at Rickarton was refused planning permission on Tuesday after a knife-edge vote where the chairman’s casting vote decided the application.

Irish energy firm ESB were seeking full planning permission for the erection of 11 Wind Turbines and associated Infrastructure at their proposed Craigneil Windfarm, close to the existing Meikle Carewe development. The wind turbines would have a maximum height to blade tip of 135m and a rotor diameter of 113m.

Last December our councillors voted to defer their decision on the application pending a site visit due to concerns about the visual impacts of the development. One location highlighted as having its view affected was Stonehaven’s War Memorial. The site visit was delayed due to Covid restrictions and was made on June 22.

The windfarm application found vocal support in our Community Council, SDCC. Last October, Jim Stephen highlighted the community benefit fund associated with the proposed development.

Mr Stephen, who is also chairman of the Stonehaven Town Partnership, said the project would bring £5.28 million over its 30-year life time. This money would be shared with two other community council areas – North Kincardine Rural and Crathes, Drumoak and Durris.

Should community benefit be a consideration?

At today’s meeting, Cllr Ian Mollison said the committee report recorded SDCC’s support of the windfarm making reference to the community benefit, but there was no other mention of the fund. He asked if the funds were a material consideration.

The planning officer’s response was that the community funds were not a condition of any permission as they were an industry initiative to give feedback to communities. The proposals, he said, should be considered on its planning merits and its physical appearance in the landscape.

Giants on the landscape

There were various issues raised by our councillors – impact on red kites, shadow flicker and effect on MOD and civil aviation radars.

But it would appear it was the sheer size of the turbines and their impact on the landscape that provoked the greatest concern. Cllr Jeff Hutchison said he had walked up to Meikle Carewe to visualise how the windfarm would look. His concerns, he said, were for the scale of the turbines which would be twice the size of those at Meikle Carewe – he noted they had to be that size to be economically viable.

But Cllr Colin Pike later said: ”We are not here to discuss energy requirements, we are here to look at putting these turbines on the landscape.”

Cllr Wendy Agnew is chair of the Area Committee – she challenged the development’s location saying the local development plan did not show wind turbines in that area. she listed concerns for the impact on red kites, on neighbouring properties, on radar and on the scale of the development.

”This would be quite a scar on the landscape,” she said. ”Like giants in a landscape.”

Casting vote

Mrs Agnew catalogued her reasons for wishing to refuse planning permission and led the charge for refusing the windfarm permission when the committee moved on to their vote.

Four councillors were absent from the meeting, having tendered their apologies. So there were eight present to vote – and t was close: Cllrs George Carr, Sarah Dickinson, Ian Mollison and Dennis Robertson voted in favour of granting permission.

And Cllrs Wendy Agnew, Alastair Bewes, Jeff Hutchison and Colin Pike voted against.

So with a four vote draw, the casting vote of the chair – Mrs Agnew – brought the matter to a swift conclusion – permission denied.

ESB express their disappointment

Speaking after the meeting, ESB Renewables Project Director Brian Hegarty said: “We are disappointed with the decision as we have worked extremely hard to bring forward an acceptable proposal.  We will now reflect on the matters raised by Councillors and review our position.  We would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to speak with us on our proposals and help shape the project to date.  With a recommendation to approve from the planning officials, no statutory consultee objections, only three objections from members of the public, and formal support from Stonehaven & District Community Council, we were very hopeful of attaining a positive decision today.

“The development, if consented and constructed, would have created direct and indirect economic benefits, including the potential for local jobs during the construction period as well as a range of contracts that local firms would have been encouraged to bid for.”

ESB is Ireland’s part state-owned electricity utility company and provides power to approximately 1.4million customers across the island of Ireland. ESB has offices in Glasgow, and is an energy supplier to businesses and homes across Scotland and the UK. As well as onshore and offshore wind projects in Scotland, ESB is also heavily involved in electric vehicle infrastructure as well as renewable heating systems, including the installation of the low carbon heating and cooling system in the V&A Dundee.

The featured image is of Meikle Carewe windfarm and is used for illustrative purposes only