A £30 million wind farm has been given the green light in the most dramatic of circumstances ““ despite council planners warning that it will blight the Lammermuir Hills.
Councillors, urged by their own officials to throw out plans for 16 giant, 125-metre tall turbines at Aikengall, were unable to decide its fate.
Six supported the project and six were against ““ but, in an afternoon of high drama at Haddington Town House, the casting vote of planning committee convenor Norman Hampshire saw the scheme approved.
“I feel strongly that this will be good for the Lammermuirs and will be good for the global environment,” he said.
This was despite the local authority’s own officials warning of the “eyesore” scheme’s “unacceptable impact” on the stunning Lammermuir Hills.
The turbine blades ““ 90 metres in diameter ““ will sit on top of 80-metre towers in what will be the first windfarm built completely in the county.
Nearby Crystal Rig wind farm is mainly in the Scottish Borders.
Members of East Lothian’s ruling Labour group were split over the controversial proposal at Tuesday’s planning committee meeting ““ the first time East Lothian councillors have ever had to rule on a wind farm application.
Cheshire-based Community Windpower Ltd now hopes to be generating electricity from the site at the eastern end of the Lammermuir Hills in little over a year, producing 48 megawatts annually ““ enough to power 30,000 homes.
Planning officials were swamped by more than 600 written representations regarding the proposal, the bulk being pro forma letters of support.
But 56 objections, including a range of concerns from East Lammermuir Community Council, were also submitted.
They argued that the combined turbine coverage at Aikengall and nearby Crystal Rig, which straddles the county boundary and is poised for expansion from 20 to 77 turbines, would be “excessive”, resulting in “unacceptable visual impact” spoiling the village of Oldhamstocks.
In a report to the planning committee, East Lothian Council development manager Brian Stalker said the authority supported the need to address climate change and backed the principle of renewable energy.
He recommended, however, that councillors rejected the Aikengall application, saying it contravened Structure Plan and Local Plan policies.
“The proposed wind farm would have an unacceptable impact on the character and appearance of the landscape of the East Lammermuir plateau and the Lammermuir Hills area of great landscape value; and would cause unacceptable visual intrusion,” he said.
Rod Wood, principal of Community Windpower, said Aikengall would provide direct benefits to the local community and economy.
Although Aikengall would be on marginally higher ground than Crystal Rig, he said it would be contained by surrounding hills.
The proposal would help the Scottish Executive reach its target of generating 40 per cent of electricity through renewables by 2020.
He highlighted wind farms further afield where councillors had rejected plans, only for Scottish ministers to later overrule the decision.
“This is the least sensitive area in the Lammermuirs,” claimed Mr Wood.
Peter Armstrong, representing East Lammermuir Community Council, said members recognised the need for a balanced energy policy.
“According to statistics, it could have a deterious effect on house prices and possibly a drop in tourism,” he added.
Local councillor Kevin Jarvie (Labour) said he had supported the first two phases at Crystal Rig in meeting government targets, but felt Aikengall was a step two far.
“The strength of feeling (locally) is very strong,” he said.
“I must admit I do agree with them. Visual impact and noise cannot be disregarded.”
He added: “It will have a bigger footprint than Torness (nuclear power station), is twice the height of the Torness building, yet will produce a fraction of the electricity.”
But, recommending approval, Labour colleague, Councillor Robert McNeill, pointed out that there was pressure on energy companies to cut carbon emissions.
“There will come the day when you will go home at night and you might not be able to turn the electricity on and the first people you will go to is the electricity companies and accuse them of everything under the sun,” he said.
Everyone, he added, had to “live in the real world”.
Lib Dem councillor Sheena Richardson said she was “very enthusiastic” about renewables.
Tory councillor Ludovic Broun-Lindsay said the application had a “superficial appeal” and that Aikengall electricity scheme would only provide “a small percentage of large cake”.
While depute provost, Councillor David Costello, said windpower was a “necessary part of future generation” but he believed on this occasion the council’s planners “had got it right”.
But, after a show hand of hands revealed a 6-6 stalemate, Mr Hampshire used his seniority to push through the plans.
He said: ” I will use my casting vote as chair to approve it.”
How they voted: For ““ Norman Hampshire (Lab); Bishop Shepherd (Lab); Donald Grant (Lab); Robert McNeill (Lab); Pat O’Donnell (Lab) and Sheena Richardson (Lib Dem). Against ““ Kevin Jarvie (Lab); Andrew Forrest (Lab); David Costello (Lab); Gilbert Meikle (Con); Peter Ford (Con); Ludovic Broun-Lindsay (Con). Not in attendance: Charles Ingle (Independent)
By East Lothian Newsroom
15 March 2007
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