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Windfarm bid sparks tough questions

Developers hoping to create a windfarm of up to 20 turbines near Drymen have been given a flavour of the issues they will have to address to have a chance of getting the go-ahead.

Banks Renewables want to erect the turbines, each “in the order of 100 metres to tip height” at Ard Ghaoth, north-east of Craigievern, around four kilometres north-east of Drymen and a similar distance north-west of Balfron.

The site extends to the boundary with the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park but is entirely within the Stirling Council area.

While a planning application is yet to be submitted, the company has submitted a draft scoping report to Stirling Council planners, outlining which issues it proposes to cover and address in an Environmental Impact Assessment of the project as part of the planning process.

The council and other consultees such as Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Historic Scotland and Scottish Water, have now made their recommendations as to whether any aspects have been omitted so far or need to be emphasised.

While the agencies’ comments are not meant as an indication of their approval or objection to any future planning application for the windfarm, they already highlight a number of concerns for which they are seeking reassurances.

Common threads for many of the bodies consulted include cumulative impact with other existing and potential windfarms and turbines across the Stirling and national park area, visual impact on local monuments and protected areas, and impact on rare wildlife, potential noise and other effects on nearby villages and properties.

Council planners have also pointed out that the developers must justify a claim in the draft scoping report that the proposed site “does not lie within” an exclusion zone for windfarms. The planners add that while it may be within an “area of search” indicated in council policy, the particular area of search is limited to windfarms with turbines of 50 metres or less in height therefore 100 metre high turbines would need to be “justified”.

Stirling Council planners said: “It is clear from the council’s adopted planning policy and the consultees comments that this is an environmentally sensitive location in which to develop a wind energy scheme.

“Both Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Park emphasise this in their general comments.

“SNH ‘have significant concerns regarding the landscape and visual impacts of a major development in this location, and the potential to mitigate for these’.

“The national park officers have stated ‘the prospect of a windfarm at this location is of significant concern. Specifically the site is considered to be particularly sensitive to development because of its prominent location at a key gateway to the national park. Fundamentally it is difficult to see how it can accommodate development of the scale proposed without having a significant adverse visual impact on the landscape setting of the national park and a number of its principal gateways’.

“While the site is at some distance from any village, there are rural residential properties within and close to the site boundary. The direct and indirect impacts upon residential amenity such as noise, and the additional impacts of on and off-site activity during the construction period, will also require consideration.

“The general area around the proposed site has local, regional and national importance for recreation including car touring, cycling and walking. The nearby fringe of the national park has a particular concentration of recreational opportunity.

Speaking of the impact on nearby features such as the West Highland Way, the planners added: “Landscape backdrop is a significant factor in the enjoyment of this and other countryside recreation activities and possible adverse impacts from the intrusion of large turbines into the scene must be assessed.

“Conversely, wind turbines may be regarded by some as points of interest in the landscape and the proposed access track system may add options in terms of walking and cycling opportunities.”