A controversial wind-farm development was yesterday given the go-ahead despite concerns that it would blight one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the country.
The application from RWE npower renewables was granted by members of the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross planning committee at a meeting in the Assembly Rooms in Wick after they heard from supporters and objectors. Earlier the members had paid a visit to the site.
The committee’s decision means that nine wind turbines – up to 116 metres to blade-tip height – will be constructed on farmland at the Burn of Whilk, near Thrumster.
The original application was for 13 turbines but the company revised its plans to address concerns expressed about the development.
The project was recommended for approval by the Highland Council’s principal planning officer, Gordon Mooney.
While he stressed that there are no significant known archaeological remains within the site, Mr Mooney acknowledged the development lies within a historic ritual and burial area which contains five designated scheduled ancient monuments of national importance at Yarrows.
But he said the proposed application will have no direct impact on any of the scheduled ancient monuments.
“Historic Scotland is of the view that it will have no significantly adverse effect on the setting of the nearby monuments and on an area of significant archaeological importance in a national context,” he stated.
“The council’s archaeology unit does not object to the proposals.”
Mr Mooney added: “This is a major-scale development with a generating capacity of up to 27 megawatts of electricity and would make a significant contribution to meeting both national and the Highland Council’s own renewable energy targets.
“If granted planning permission it would make a significant contribution towards helping the Scottish Government meet its target of generating 80 per cent of Scotland’s electricity consumption from renewables by 2020.
“There will also be a significant number of construction jobs, albeit short-term, and economic benefits to the local economy during the construction of the wind farm.”
Five people spoke in favour of the project and argued that it would help to counter global warming, create jobs and provide funds for community councils.
It would give work to local businesses at a time when jobs are being lost at Dounreay.
They stressed that renewable energy is the way forward. Contractor Andrew Sinclair, from Clyth, referred to the current problems with the nuclear reactors at Fukushima in Japan and said: “I don’t want to see that happening here. Wind is free and clean.”
Four people spoke against the development and argued that the turbines would be too close to houses and would destroy the amenity and attraction of the Yarrows Trail.
They claimed the proposals would be “a monstrous intrusion into one of the finest untouched ritual landscapes in northern Europe”.
Islay MacLeod, of Thrumster Estate, described the plan as “a waking nightmare”. She said the wind farm would reduce the number of visitors to the area, impact on archaeological sites and would force her to give up her falconry business.
Landward Caithness councillor Robert Coghill likened the archaeology in the area to Stonehenge and Maes Howe in Orkney.
He also expressed his concern about the number of trees which would be removed for the turbines.
But other local councillors supported the application. Landward Caithness representative Willie Mackay noted there were no objections from the consultees while Wick councillor Bill Fernie said the jobs created during the construction phase were important.
The application, which also includes site roads, a wind monitoring mast, electrical works and a control building, was approved subject to a number of conditions in the interest of safety, amenity and environmental protection.
Speaking after the meeting, project developer Alastair Yule, of RWE npower renewables, said: “We are naturally very pleased with this outcome.
“Gaining consent has proved to be a long process as we initially submitted a planning application in 2006.
“Since then we have listened to and taken on board comments from the public and statutory consultees which has resulted in several amendments to the original plan, including reducing the number of turbines from 13 to nine.”
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