A controversial wind-measuring mast has been given more time to complete its task in a forest site in Caithness.
However, councillors insisted yesterday that if Gamesa Energy UK Ltd needs a further extension it will have to justify it.
The Newport-based company erected a 70-metre anemometer mast on land to the north of Loch of Toftingall, near Spittal, after receiving planning permission two years ago.
This week the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Planning Applications and Review Committee considered a two-year extension to enable the company to continue assessing the suitability of the site for potential wind energy developments.
However, the extension application met with opposition from seven residents in the Watten and Halkirk areas.
They argued that the company had had “more than enough time” in which to gather its data. The residents flagged up concerns about the mast’s “unacceptable” visual impact and the effect on wildlife, and pointed out that anemometers had been accepted as precursors for wind farms.
Alan Todd, area planning and building standards manager, said that the application was in line with national and council policy on renewable energy which was generally supportive of this type of development.
He conceded that the mast was visible from the A9 and also from houses and the wider countryside. But, as it was not a permanent structure, its impact on tourism and visitors was limited, he said.
Mr Todd added: “The anemometer has a low ground disturbance and does not interfere with any other users.”
Recommending approval of the application, he rejected claims that the mast breached human rights and added that there was no evidence that it affected property values.
Councillor David Bremner, Caithness Landward, argued that another two-year approval belied the mast’s temporary status and suggested that they restrict permission to one year, at the end of which the situation could be reviewed.
The committee chairman, Councillor Donnie Mackay, Thurso, agreed and said: “If they have not obtained the necessary data in the first two-year period, how are they going to get it in another two years? An additional one year will be more than sufficient.”
Councillor David Flear, Landward Caithness, commented: “If a year is not enough they can come back to us.”
Councillor Richard Durham, Tain and Easter Ross, felt that if the company still needed more time it would have to produce technical justification.
However, Councillor Robert Coghill, Landward Caithness, felt such evidence should be produced before a decision was taken and suggested the application should be deferred. He expressed concern about the potential effect on bird life and suggested that the three-monthly inspection of bird deflectors on the mast’s guy wires should be increased to a weekly frequency.
The committee approved a one-year extension with conditions, including a weekly inspection of the bird deflectors.
By Noel Donaldson
24 October 2007
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