Planning board gives its backing to a 'no Public Inquiry' for wind farm proposals.

Western Isles Planning Applications Board backed a recommendation for Scottish Ministers that there is no need for a public inquiry into Stornoway Wind Farm proposals.

Tuesday, 2nd February 2021, 5:27 pm
It seems that the wind farm proposals are now the subject of some concern. Archive Image
It seems that the wind farm proposals are now the subject of some concern. Archive Image

The Western Isles Planning Applications Board has given its backing to a series of recommendations supporting revised proposals for the Stornoway Wind Farm Development, and concluding that there is ‘no public interest’ in a Public Local Inquiry being held into the matter.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is now set to consider the recommendations at a meeting of the Full Council tomorrow, as it determines its response to Scottish Ministers on the plans.

The revised plans for the development could see 35 turbines being developed at the windfarm site to the west of Stornoway, with a generation capacity of 196kws.

The proposals include plans for 25 180m high turbines on the site and ten 156m high turbines.

Under the revised plans, the taller turbines would be situated to the west of the development site with the shorter turbines being placed closer to housing on the east edge of the site near Newmarket.

The Stornoway Wind Farm currently has a consented maximum generating capacity of 180MW, with each turbine having an output of up to 5MW and up to 145m tip height.The original planning consent for the development was granted in September 2012 but has seen subsequent extensions being granted to the development which currently means that the development must now be begun no later than September 6, 2022.

The report before the Board concluded that the benefits of the development progressing outweigh the negatives of the scheme, and the recommendations state that Scottish Ministers should note ‘the national importance of large scale wind farms in the Outer Hebrides in delivering the Radial Connector infrastructure and renewable energy target’, and that ‘the principle of this type of development in this location’ has previously been considered to be acceptable by the Comhairle.

The recommendations in the report state that the developer ‘has worked to address some objections and concerns with the relevant consultees and bodies since submission of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report’, and include support for a proposal to remove two of the planned turbines to mitigate against the impact of the development on bird life, reducing the overall capacity of the new development to 184.8kws.

The recommendations also state that the Comhairle’s support for the development in principle ‘is subject to the removal of the aviation objections from NATS En-Route’ and that these are addressed ‘before any consent is issued by Scottish Ministers’.

Planning officers told the Planning Applications Board that the revised proposals for the wind farm had the potential for 41 per-cent decrease in peat loss in comparison to the already consented plan.

But councillors at the meeting clashed over whether or not the Comhairle should recommend that no Public Local Inquiry is necessary.

Stornoway councillor Angus McCormack, who is not a member of the Planning Applications Board, was one of three Stornoway ward councillors to call for a public inquiry. He said: “I understand the position of this application that there is an extant application that has been approved. I don’t agree with the suggestion that the changes have been minimal. I think there have been very significant and substantial changes here.

“I don’t understand how this has happened but it does appear to be the case that the public have not engaged with this exercise at all, until very recently when it became a part of a piece of publicity in a newspaper. The reaction to that was immediate, and you would now find it difficult to see that there is no interest in a public inquiry.

“There have been two community councils, three grazings committees and quite a number of individuals who have been in touch with me and with others suggesting that a public enquiry would be well worth doing, and I think that would be well worth doing myself. It would then take a final decision and resolve all of the issues around this that have been ongoing for many many years.

“The idea that there are no objections to this at all is presumably because nobody has actually written into the council, and said that they have got an objection. Well after all these years I suppose they felt that their views had been made known enough. Clearly they were not. But I still think that there would be merit in the Planning Board agreeing that there should be a public inquiry into this.”

But Comhairle Convenor, Cllr Norman A MacDonald said that the project that had been in front of people for the best part of a year-and-a-half and there has been no demand from the public to hold a public enquiry.

He said: “I see no point whatsoever in having a public local enquiry at this stage in a project that has pretty much had only two interventions to it, and it will be for the developer and the Comhairle and other parties to work out what mitigation measures will be required, and that’s a matter for them to carry out.”

Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay and South Uist councillor, Calum MacMillan said that part of the training he had received as a member of the Planning Applications Board was to consider ‘material considerations’, and one of those was the economic benefits of developments.

Cllr MacMillan said: “…We live in rivers of wind and every day that goes past like today is one that we don’t get the benefit of the renewable energy that passes us to convert into usable energy for our homes, and is a wasted and lost day.

“…We are facing an economic crisis and we as a Comhairle have to try and give leadership as to how we try and get out of it…and part of that is how do we provide jobs to our island areas for the future. If there is going to be a two or four year recession in the UK mainland and especially in London we might have a ten or a 20 years recession here…it will be like the 1920s revisited a century on.

“I want to avoid the equivalent of the Marloch or any of these emigration ships which removed the population in our time”, Cllr MacMillan concluded, adding: “and this is an opportunity when we can be a leading light in renewable energy and storage technology…a public inquiry could keep this development back years if not decades, and that is not in anyone’s interests.”

Point Councillor Norrie MacDonald asked the Comhairle’s Director of Communities, Calum Iain MacIver, if it was his ‘professional judgement’ that a public enquiry into the matter “…could be a torpedo under the waterline of everything that we [the Comhairle] have been trying to achieve over the last couple of years with regard to renewable energy?”.

Cllr MacDonald added: “[this] could be a devastating negative impact on all the hard work that has gone before by various planners, various developers and certainly sink any prospect of community energy [projects] piggy-backing onto the bigger projects and getting their own energy to market to provide some kind of income for their own communities.”

The Director replied: “I think a Public Local Inquiry would need to examine the planning around environmental issues where there is no objection. We don’t have any outstanding objections, so it is unlikely that the Minister is likely to want a Public Local Inquiry. It would therefore seem odd given the situation and the recommendations and the balanced view of the planning service that we would want to ask for a public Inquiry.

“If a public Inquiry does take years, which I think would be the most likely outcome, it is difficult to judge what the overall impact would be on the strategy for energy in the Outer Hebrides.

“…Exactly what the impact would be is difficult to judge but it certainly wouldn’t be helpful and it would certainly hinder community and economic development both in renewables and in wider development for years, literally for years. That is why my judgement is that we should be recommending to government and to Scottish Ministers that there is no need for a public inquiry.”