Scottish Ministers have rejected a planning application previously approved by the Comhairle, for two wind turbines in Bernera, because of the impact it could have on the Callanish Standing Stones.
The planning application for two turbines measuring 67 metres to the blade tip with an substation built in between in Kirkibost, more than four kilometres from the main site of the stones, was submitted by Norman MacDonald.
It is believed that the result of this planning application could impact on others, setting a precedent for crofters wishing to use land for renewable energy developments. Now, almost a year on from the initial Comhairle meetings they have just six week to decide if they will appeal.
In February 2012 planning permission was granted at a meeting of the full council, overturning the decision of the Environment and Protective Services Committee not to grant the application and going against recommendations from the planning officer. Former Point Councillor DJ Macsween put forward the amendment supporting the development which he described as “almost insignificant”.
Former Vice Chair of the Environment Committee, Kenneth Murray, now Chair of the Committee, pushed for the refusal to stand but was outvoted.
Historic Scotland objected to the proposals saying the turbines would “detract significantly from the setting of the monuments”. It also said that the Comhairle failed to give “an adequate explanation of why it rejected the advice of its planning officer”.
There was also significant representations from local residents including seven letters of objection and a petition with more than 90 signatures raising fears about the impact the turbines would have on the unspoilt and undeveloped nature of the island.
A report put before Ministers stated: “This is not the only possible site for wind turbines, whereas the Callanish Standing Stones are immovable. The setting of such a supremely important national monument merits the most careful treatment.”
However in the application it was insisted that the effect on the local community would be beneficial – encouraging job creation. It also questioned Historic Scotland’s concerns regarding the visual impact on the Stones saying: “The Stones and their settings have changed innumerable times over the past 5,900 years. Against this the maximum 25-year life of the proposed turbines is short.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie McGrigor leant his support to the proposal saying renewable energy developments satisfied the need for crofters to diversify and become greener – he also expressed concern that if the application was refused it would set a precedent preventing similar projects.
Local resident and opponent of the development Dr David Michael said he was “astonished” that the Comhairle granting planning permission last year and said the Scottish Minster’s decision was a “victory for common sense”.
He continued: “It was a really sensible decision, it will benefit the community as a whole.” He also said he hoped this would set a precedent for similar applications.
However Mr McGrigor MSP said of the decision: “I am sympathetic to the feeling of disappointment in the local crofting community over this refusal by the Scottish Government, especially since the project was given approval by Western Isles Council.
“Crofters are always being told to diversify and become greener and renewable developments are an ideal way to achieve these aims.”
He continued: “My main concern is that this refusal might set a precedent for other similar developments by local crofters in the area and I sincerely hope this does not prove to be the case.”