Councillors have agreed to allow a Caithness renewable energy company to continue gathering wind data – but insisted on a special condition to protect birdlife.
The 50-metre-high anemometer at Spittal Hill is designed to gauge capacity for a possible wind farm.
Spittal Hill Windfarm Ltd was originally given a two-year permission and submitted a request for a similar period to Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Planning Applications and Review Committee, which met in Lairg yesterday.
Nine residents – from Halkirk, Watten and Wick – submitted objections, arguing that the mast would have an unacceptable impact on birds and wildlife. The objectors took exception to the mast’s visual impact and maintained that the company had already had sufficient time to gather relevant data.
Recommending approval of the application, Alan Todd, area planning and building standards manager, pointed out that neither the local community council in Halkirk nor Scottish Natural Heritage had objected and, as far as visual impact was concerned, the view was taken that such masts were acceptable on a temporary basis.
The application complied with local and national guidelines for renewable energy projects.
Mr Todd stressed that such proposals had to be considered on their merits, and that if they led to wind-farm developments these would be considered as and when they materialised.
He added: “This application is an ongoing exercise by the developers to monitor wind resources.”
The condition aimed at safeguarding birdlife was suggested by Councillor David Bremner, Landward Caithness, who found support when he suggested that inspection of the bird deflectors on the mast should take place on a weekly basis as opposed to the three-month period suggested by the planning service.
Mr Bremner said: “I am no expert but there is quite a lot of activity in that area, particularly when the whooper swans are migrating. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to ask for a more rigorous condition.”
He also felt that the extension should be restricted to a year.
The point was picked up by Councillor Willie Mackay, Landward Caithness, who said he didn’t believe there had been any drastic change in wind patterns in that area during the past two years and added that he thought the company would have gathered all the data it required by now.
Councillor Robert Coghill, Landward Caithness, said he did not think that a weekly inspection of the deflectors was unreasonable during the breeding season.
The committee agreed to a weekly inspection during the breeding season and a monthly check the rest of the year. It was decided to restrict planning permission to a year.
* The Highland Council has received an appeal from Thurso businessman Ernie Petrie, who claims that the authority failed to determine a planning application within the statutory two-month period.
Mr Petrie was originally granted planning permission four years ago but he was taken to task recently after he began work on his units at the Ormlie Industrial Estate because he had departed from the approved plan and altered their height.
The change sparked objections from nearby residents in Henderson Court and prompted Mr Petrie to submit an amended plan which reduced the impact on the houses.
However, in October, the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Planning Applications and Review Committee decided to defer the application and investigate an alternative site.
Mr Petrie, though his agents, claimed that the latest deferral was made on the basis of “an incorrect, unconstitutional and unacceptable condition” – that the applicant look at other sites both in the High Ormlie area and around Janetstown.
Planning committee members meeting at Lairg yesterday agreed to consider their response to the appeal at their next meeting.
By Noel Donaldson
21 November 2007
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