A wind farm company has denied it intends siphoning hundreds of gallons of water from Golspie’s Big Burn ““ a noted tourist attraction.
Fears were raised this week that Kilbraur Wind Energy Ltd, a subsidiary of West Coast Energy, intended sourcing water it needs to make concrete for turbine bases from the head waters of the Big Burn.
There is concern that any such move could lead to levels dropping in the burn and result in its famed waterfall being reduced to a trickle.
The claim by anti-wind farm campaigners has been strongly rejected by the company. But so concerned are Sutherland councillors that they have now asked Highland Council officials for clarification.
The issue cropped up at a planning hearing in Brora this week into a controversial application by Kilbraur Wind Energy for planning consent to extend a quarry it has already opened up on a Sutherland hillside. The company is in the process of building a 19-turbine wind farm on Sutherland Estate land at Farlary, Rogart, and requires stone for hardstanding and access roads.
West Coast Energy representative Simon Green revealed it was intended to start extracting water from a source close to the wind farm site in late May or early June.
He told the hearing he was 99 per cent certain that the water source identified did not eventually flow into the Big Burn but in another direction, towards Rogart.
But wind farm protester Allan Tubb of Golspie, who was present at the hearing, insisted the source was indeed part of the headwater of the Big Burn and flowed east, not west or south.
County Committee chairman Francis Keith warned that the Big Burn and its adjoining walk were one of the area’s leading tourist attractions. “I would be concerned if any substantial volume of water was to be extracted from the headwaters of the Big Burn,” he said. “There has been a lot of work undertaken recently and the waterfall is a key feature. If it dried up in the summer it could have a serious implication for tourism in Golspie.”
Councillors went on reluctantly to grant planning consent for the company to extend a quarry it has already opened up in a wooded area close to the wind farm site and in clear view of a number of properties at Knockarthur.
But they strongly criticised Kilbraur Wind Energy for its piecemeal planning approach and for apparently misjudging the amount of aggregate it required.
The company was given the green light for its wind farm in April 2006 but then returned to planners in August to be given consent to open two medium-sized quarries, one in Ben Bhraggie Wood and the other above the road in Dunrobin Glen on a site clearly visible from a plateau beside the Duke of Sutherland’s monument at the top of Ben Bhraggie.
Then in November of the same year further planning consent was granted for a third quarry, measuring around 300 metres by 110 metres on woodland close to the wind farm site. It is this quarry which is now to be extended.
Wind farm campaigner Allan Tubb pointed out to the hearing that originally the company said it would require 40,000 cubic metres or 190,000 tons of stone but that figure had now soared to 100,000 metres.
Mr Tubb said the company was guilty either of incompetence or of deliberately underestimating the quantities of material required.
“This will not be the last request for more stone,” he claimed. “As has already been pointed out by myself and others, this company routinely uses this technique in direct contravention of planning and environmental impact regulations. Such piecemeal applications are illegal.”
But Simon Green explained that the quarry in Ben Bhraggie Wood had not yielded as much stone as expected ““ a total of 8000 cubic tons had been extracted from the area ““ and had now been backfilled.
No moves had been made to open a quarry in Dunrobin Glen and the company now intended leaving that site alone if permission was granted to extend the on-site quarry, from which 24,000 cubic metres had already been extracted and which it was felt would provide enough stone for the entire project. Area planning manager Allan Todd said it was a matter for regret that the amount of stone required had increased so significantly from the original estimate.
He said he had passed on the concerns voiced by Sutherland councillors about the piecemeal nature of the planning process to Highland Council headquarters in Inverness, who were now considering making it a prerequisite for borrow pits to be included from the outset.
Brora and Helmsdale councillor Rita Finlayson said: “The way this whole thing has been handled is totally unsatisfactory. I would have thought that the company could have made a better job of doing their homework.”
Three objections to the quarry extension application were received by planners from Allan Tubb; Dr Malcolm Rider, Blarich Rogart; and Dr Kaye Little, Ceredigion, Wales. No representations were made by Golspie, Rogart or Brora Community Councils.
27 April 2007