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Objectors plan turbines blimp stunt  

Credit:  By Iain Grant, John O'Groat Journal, www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk 4 May 2011 ~~

A blimp is due to take to the skies above Caithness tomorrow at the proposed site for what would be the county’s biggest wind farm.

The stunt is being arranged by objectors to the 30 turbines earmarked to go up on Spittal Hill, to the south-east of Halkirk.

The blimp is going airborne to coincide with a visit to the site by those taking part in the public local inquiry into the 75.5 megawatt scheme.

John Campbell, QC for Spittal Windfarm Opposition Group, gave notice of the plan at the opening day of the inquiry yesterday.

He said: “The purpose is to demonstrate the height of the upper tip of the turbine blades. I’ve found that this gives a broad indication to people of the height of these structures.”

The protest group has received permission to go ahead from the Civil Aviation Authority.

James Findlay, QC for the Highland Council, has also seen blimps used in similar cases. He said: “If a blimp is going to be flown, it may be of assistance. I’ve had some experience of them being put up to indicate the general height of wind turbines or high buildings.”

Barrister David Hardy, who represents developers Spittal Hill Windfarm Ltd, took the opposite view.

He said: “Our firm view is that we think it would be unhelpful and unrepresentative but we’ve no problem with a third party flying a blimp if they wish.”

Scottish Government reporter Trevor Croft believed that those viewing would have to show common sense in interpreting the flight of the blimp.

He made clear he would not be referring to it when he compiles his report of the evidence heard at the inquiry.

About 50 members of the public attended the hearing when it opened in Halkirk’s Ross Institute yesterday morning.

Ten professional witnesses are being called over the five days earmarked for evidence into the firm’s application to win planning consent for the turbines, which would stand between 100m and 110m to the tip of their blades.

A separate session is being held a week tonight (Wednesday, May 11) for local people to air their views on the development.

The Highland Council’s Far North planning committee registered its unanimous opposition to the scheme, which has attracted 1437 individual objections and 1253 supporters.

Rejecting the advice from their own officials, the councillors backed Scottish Natural Heritage’s concern about the impact the turbines would have on the landscape.

Landscape architect Alexander Schlicke, for the developers, claimed the wind farm can be accommodated without having an unacceptable effect on the terrain or local residents.

He said that all significant visual impacts are temporary and would no longer exist at the end of the 25-year planning consent.

Mr Schlicke said: “I’d agree with the (council) planning officer that it represents a coherent and ordered approach to the siting of the development in a relatively open landscape.”

While accepting there would be a significant impact on small farm and croft settlements, he said this would not be unacceptable.

Mr Schlicke added: “It’s a large-scale development and it’s inevitable that it will give rise to landscape and visual effects.”

But he insisted the design of the scheme ties in well to its surroundings.

While Spittal Hill is a prominent local landmark within a relatively flat landscape, it is not a designated site.

He added: “If you compare it with Ben Dorrery, eight kilometres to the west, or the Hill of Rangag, about eight kilometres to the south, Spittal Hill is smaller and a less distinctive feature.”

Seventeen houses lie within a kilometre of a turbine and two of them are within 500 metres.

While there would be a significant impact on these householders, Mr Schlicke did not believe this would be “overbearing or overwhelming”.

“It would not render them unpleasant places to live in,” he claimed.

The majority of the houses, he added, are occupied by people with a financial interest in the wind farm.

Mr Schlicke did not believe the turbines would unduly dominate views from the A9 or A882 though the impacts on certain stretches would be significant.

Overall, he said that it has to be accepted that the Caithness landscape has become characterised by wind-farm developments.

Present in the hall were giant visualisations of the wind farm prepared by Stuart Young, who chairs Caithness Windfarm Information Forum.

Several showed the view residents who live nearby would have out of their living-room windows.

The inquiry is due to resume today (Wednesday).

Source:  By Iain Grant, John O'Groat Journal, www.johnogroat-journal.co.uk 4 May 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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