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Planning committee approves Earlseat and Westfield windfarm plans

Plans for two major windfarms in Fife have won the backing of a key Fife Council committee.

Councillors on the strategic planning committee backed the Earlseat Farm project – which will see eight 120m turbines built near the former colliery by the Standing Stane Road —and a five-turbine windfarm near Kinglassie.

The £25.3 million Earlseat Farm project is expected to create up to 30 short-term construction jobs, while a £1.95 million fund over the development’s 25-year lifespan will create up to 125 apprenticeships thanks to a tie-up with Adam Smith College.

The committee’s support comes after the Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Levenmouth area committees on Fife Council, whose areas are straddled by the application site, all had their say on the proposals.

Glenrothes councillors most recently recommended approval, while Kirkcaldy councillors supported it in principle but expressed reservations about how it would impact the landscape and strategic allocations.

Levenmouth’s elected members sought further guarantees on the apprenticeships and the presence of pine martens and peregrine falcons in the site.

However, councillors meeting on Tuesday were told by officials that while there will be significant impacts as a result of the development, the turbines would be “visible but not overbearing”.

Developer Carbon Free Earlseat had applied for nine turbines, but the council agreed on eight to minimise impact.

Four letters of objection were received, as well as one letter of support, citing various reasons as to why the proposal should be turned down.

They ranged from landscape impact to the distraction shadow flicker could cause drivers on the busy Standing Stane Road.

Scottish Natural Heritage originally objected over landscape impact but, although it still has concerns, it withdrew its formal objection.

Councillors heard that East Lothian Council had also chimed in, suggesting the views from the coastline on the other side of the Forth could be spoiled.

However councillors voted 8-2 in favour of the windfarm.

While committee chairman John Beare moved a recommendation to approve the plans, seconded by Jim Burke, Kirkcaldy councillor Ron Edwards had lodged an amendment calling for the plans to be rejected.

Backed solely by Councillor Ron Caird in the end, Mr Edwards said extensive research suggested the Earlseat site should only accommodate a “medium-sized” development of around five turbines.

He said: “I really wonder why we’re going against our own guidance for no real reason at all.”

Councillor David Mogg queried the objections based on driver distraction, but planner Elspeth Cook said the transport services department believed the turbines would be far enough from the road so as not to cause a problem.
Westfield plan backed

Meanwhile, five wind turbines earmarked for the former Westfield opencast coal site have been approved amid concerns about safety at a nearby airfield.

Infinis Limited’s plans for five 110m turbines at the redundant coal site, near Kinglassie, were backed after another 8-2 vote.

That was in spite of protestations from Fife Airport and a consultants’ report commissioned by the council itself which suggested the turbines could pose an “unacceptable” threat to pilots’ safety – particularly trainees.

The application has generated 108 letters of objection, 104 of which listed aircraft safety and operational issues relating to the airport as their main concerns.

Indeed, five consultants’ reports have been produced – three from the applicants which indicated the turbines could be built without affecting the airport, one from airport operators Tayside Aviation suggesting the opposite and one from the council’s own consultants suggesting safety could be compromised.

However, the three reports commissioned by the applicants suggested that operations at the airport could be adapted to ensure flying could continue.

Aircraft enthusiasts and airport users who objected claimed the hazards to landing and take-off could be “life-threatening”, while others said there would be a significant impact on training.

After a lengthy discussion Mr Beare backed approval, seconded by Councillor Bill Kay.

Mr Beare said: “The concerns seem to relate to a particular phase of inexperienced pilot training and I think that can be overcome.”

While expressing reservations, Mr Kay said the council would not be justified in refusal, given the consultants’ varying views.

Approval came after Ms Cook said the turbines themselves would not be unsafe but could cause a safety issue due to the shortcomings of a pilot or an aircraft.

She said: “For example, a new road that is granted planning permission would not be classed as unsafe due to the anticipated behaviour of the driver or the roadworthiness of the vehicle.”