A wind farm company which has already got planning permission to open up two quarries in the Golspie area, was this week granted consent for a third, despite strong protest from a local environmental group and the local authority archaeologist.
Kilbraur Wind Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of West Coast Energy, are in the process of building a 19-turbine wind farm at Kilbraur in Strath Brora for which they were given the go-ahead in April.
The company successfully applied for planning consent in August to open up two medium-size quarries ““ known in the industry as “˜burrow pits’ ““ in Ben Bhraggie woods and above the road in Dunrobin Glen on a site which will be visible from a plateau beside the Duke of Sutherland’s monument at the top of Ben Bhraggie.
And at a planning hearing in Brora on Monday local councillors were asked to approve a third quarry, measuring around 300metres by 110 metres on land presently covered in trees north of Farlary, close to the site of the wind farm itself and in clear view of a number of properties at Knockarthur.
Some 150,000 tons of stone is expected to be excavated from the quarries which will be used to construct the access from the A9 to the wind farm and to provide on-site tracks and hardstandings within the wind farm site itself. The wind farm company have said that there is a possibility the Dunrobin Glen quarry will not be needed.
Three objections to the latest quarry application were received from Rogart Environment Group as well as Hans Mol and Michelle Vroon of Moulin Cottage, Ascoile, Brora, and Dr H K Little of Ceredigion in Wales.
The Highland Council archaeology department also lodged a strong protest on the grounds that the site of the quarry was in an area rich with cultural heritage features, such as clearance cairns and hut circles, and there were other locations where the quarry would be less intrusive to the historic landscape of the area.
A department spokesman stated: “It has to be borne in mind that the application lies within a rich tapestry of historic landscape. This landscape can be read not just by the professional archaeologist but by amateurs too. The physical footprint is large, and the applicants acknowledge it will have significant impact during the operations.
“It is still my opinion that there are other locations within the application area further to the east where a borrow pit could be formed with less physical and visual impact upon the historic landscape.
“In comparison, the effect of the turbines on the landscape in my view is not insignificant, but given the very small footprint of each, the effect is minimal. The impact of this application with a much larger footprint, and longer term effects on the landscape, is in my view far more damaging in terms of visual impact upon the historic landscape.”
Rogart Environment Group member Allan Tubb told Monday’s hearing that the complete development ““ the wind farm itself, all three borrow pits, access to the wind farm site and any other dependant developments ““ should have been covered fully by a single environmental statement and planning application.
He claimed that breaking down a planning application, as had happened in the case of the Kilbraur development, into separate but inter-related sections, known as salami-slicing, was contrary to European Law.
The Rogart group had written prior to the hearing to Highland Council’s principal solicitor, Inverness-based Karen MacLeod, asking for it to be called off on the grounds the application did not comply with European Law or Scottish regulations governing Environment Impact Assessments (EIA) . However, Ms MacLeod determined that the EIA regulations had been applied properly.
Mr Tubb said at the hearing: “In the original papers which accompanied the wind farm application it was said that only 46,000 cubic metres of stone were required. When we looked at the borrow pits in August, both the environmental impact assessments stated that the total required for the whole project was 80,000 cubic metres,” he said.
“Now we are asked to approve another on-site burrow pit which adds that yet another 60,000 cubic metres is required. What else is going to change? The developer should know exactly what is required when he puts forward his first application. All that information should have been made to you at the time of the original wind farm application so you could have judged it against the environmental impact.”
In his address to the hearing, wind farm company representative, Stephen Salt, a director of West Coast Energy, said the Farlary quarry was integral to the construction programme.
He told councillors: “I appreciate your archaeologist has concerns, but having examined the whole site in a lot of detail and having taken advice from experts, we feel that this site is the best fit of all, taking into account all the environmental factors.”
Mr Salt pointed out that there had been only one objection from a local resident. He acknowledged the objection from the Rogart Environment Group but said that most of the points they raised had been covered in the previous application for burrow pits.
Speaking out against the development, Brora and Helmsdale councillor Rita Finlayson said she was a “voice in the wilderness”.
“My feelings are very well known on this subject. I feel this application for a burrow pit should have been part of the original application. The wind farm company should have done their homework and if they had been properly prepared they would have known how many quarries and the tonnage of stone they required from the outset.”
She was supported by Tongue and Farr councillor Sandy Mackay who said: “It is wrong that the burrow pit application should come up after planning permission for the wind farm has been granted. The whole lot should come up at the initial stage.”
And North West Sutherland councillor Francis Keith chipped in: “I’m inclined to agree. It would be a lot tidier for us and everybody would see upfront what is proposed if it was dealt with in one application.”
Dornoch councillor Duncan Allan commented: “I would be much more enthusiastic about this scheme if there was going to be any decent spin-off for the local community apart from paltry sums to spend on swings and roundabouts.
“For example heating our schools is becoming a huge problem. I would like to see a wind turbine at Dornoch Academy so we could keep the school heated for nothing and make a bit of profit by selling power to the National Grid. I think we’ve missed a huge opportunity. All we are doing here is enriching local landowners and the company with all the energy produced going to customers in the South.”
But Golspie councillor Ian Ross said that he had listened carefully to the presentations and did not see anything different with the application to the ones councillors had looked at elsewhere such as at Beinn Tharsuinn. He felt the level of monitoring of the site work and reinstatement works would be even greater now in the light of a new EC Water Framework Directive. And he said that the archaeological concerns over the quarry site were, in his view, “overly restrictive.”
It was agreed to approve the application, but also to write to the director of planning suggesting that in the future it would be better if all aspects of wind farm developments were dealt with in one application rather than several.
By Caroline McMorran