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Flood risk in the wind

Campaigners are warning people in the Forres area about the possible impact on the River Findhorn of removing peat bog to construct the bases of around 130 wind turbines.

The ‘Save Our Dava’ group are opposed to proposals for five wind farms around the northern edge of the Dava, which would see around 130 turbines standing at, on average, around 425 feet.

They met last week with Highlands and Islands MSP Peter Peacock, who listened to their concerns about the possible environmental impact of masses of wind turbines in the area, following a spate of applications.

Campaigners claim that the widespread excavation work could lead to an increased flood risk from the River Findhorn to people living downstream of the site.

Mr Peacock, who met campaigners at the Dava to see the sites in question at first hand, said that it was important that all agencies were fully informed of the situation, particularly when deciding planning applications.

Speaking exclusively to the ‘Gazette’ from the flooding summit, which was taking place in Perth on Monday, he said he had been very impressed by the ‘Save Our Dava’ campaigners.

He praised the “important research” that was being done by the volunteers, and said that they were raising many issues to which there were, as yet, no scientific answers.

“One of the important things coming out of the summit is the agreement that there is a need for an integrated approach to flooding,” he said. “It is not just about engineering solutions, but the management of the whole watercourse.

“It is important that we take a precautionary approach to development until we fully understand the issues,” he added.

Campaigner Jeannie Munro said that she had been very pleased that Mr Peacock had taken the time to inform himself of the situation, adding that he seemed interested in what they had to say, and told them he was intending to speak to colleagues at the Scottish Parliament about the issue.

“He listened, and we briefed him fully on all the issues,” she said. “We hope it will do some good.”

Mr Peacock said that any issues being brought up as a result of the proposals should be discussed in full, including the possible effects downstream of the construction site on the River Findhorn.

“We need to take clear scientific evidence to see if development on the uplands will have an effect on towns and villages along the coast,” he said. “That is why I welcome the full Parliamentary inquiry into the effects of flooding on communities, which was announced last week by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, and for which I have been campaigning.”

The inquiry will collect evidence from experts, communities and local authorities, and lead to recommendations being made to the Scottish Executive for legislation which is expected next year. Mr Peacock said he agreed that there were a wide range of issues which needed to be explored.

“We need to consider the whole range of issues, including why we are experiencing such high rainfall; what is happening in the areas that experience flooding; what statutory procedures are in place; budgetary spending, and whether alleviation schemes are effective,” said Mr Peacock.

During his visit to the Dava, he also heard claims by campaigner Roy Hewett, who has spoken to various experts about the possible effects of excavating tonnes of peat, which would be necessary if Highland Council were to grant planning approval for the turbines on the Dava Moor.

There are currently two planning applications with the Scottish Executive, which Highland councillors were minded to approve, and another application has been lodged with Highland Council. Two further companies, meanwhile, are gauging opinion on potential developments, and four more have shown an interest in the Dava area.

Mr Hewett told Mr Peacock that the general opinion was that the effect from construction of the turbines could be devastating. He said that possible environmental effects could range from a convergence of mud into the river to pollution and a rise in water levels for the communities downstream of the site.

Mr Hewett visited a roadshow held at the Mosset Tavern earlier this year by the Moray Council’s flood alleviation team, who were showcasing their flood plan for the River Findhorn and Pilmuir.

He said he was shocked to learn that none of the team seemed aware that there were plans further upstream to remove tonnes of peat bog to make way for roads leading to the windfarms and for the turbine bases, which he claims could affect the river.

“There have been incidents in Ireland where removal of peat bog has resulted in mud slides and landslides involving large areas of trees,” he said. “The effects could be worse than anyone realises here.”

Mr Hewett was referring to an environmental disaster in Derrybrien in Ireland in 2003, where the excavation of peat bog during construction of a 71-turbine windfarm resulted in widespread pollution, and as a result of which legal proceedings were taken against the Government by the Environment Commissioner, who claimed that environmental directives had been breached.

Mr Hewett wants the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to realise the environmental impact of removal of blanket bog on the Dava Moor, but urged people who are concerned about the Findhorn flood plan to try to find out more.

“I couldn’t believe it when I asked the people running the exhibition if they knew about the proposals and they said ‘no’,” he said. “I asked whether, in light of everything, they shouldn’t be taking a precautionary approach to flood prevention, but they more or less laughed and said it would cost so much that nothing would ever get done.

“If you ask me, it is a cavalier attitude to flood prevention,” he added.

A spokesman from Moray Council said that where more than one local authority was involved in a planning application, and there were drainage or flooding issues, planners would consult.

“Developers are required to submit a planning application to the respective local authority,” he said. “New developments now require the developer to design a sustainable drainage system.”

He explained that these proposals were referred to statutory consultees for comment, including Scottish Water, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the council transportation manager.

“The flood alleviation team assist the transportation manager by commenting on issues related to flooding, drainage and sustainable drainage systems,” he added.

SUDS must be designed in accordance with a design manual, and the primary premise is that post-development run-off must not exceed the green-field run-off, and in most cases it is expected to improve the situation. The developer must also state who will maintain the post-development drainage, and how.

In the meantime, Bob Stewart, the council’s director of environmental services, said it was likely that Moray Council would make a formal response to any application which would impact on flood proposals.

“The prospective developer held public exhibitions in Forres and Nairn some time ago,” said.

“Based on the information at that time, any planning application would be submitted to Highland Council, but it is likely that the Moray Council would be a consultee.” He said it is not known whether the application has been submitted, but if and when this happens, the council is likely to make a formal response.”

By Tanya McLaren

Forres Gazette

12 September 2007