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New windfarm plans after false claims

A Liberal Democrat peer withdrew proposals for a controversial windfarm after council chiefs said a planning application by his new green energy firm contained false claims.

Former deputy first minister Nicol Stephen – now Lord Stephen – faced criticism earlier this year after joining with an oil industry multimillionaire to set up Renewable Energy Ventures. One of his senior party colleagues accused him of bulldozing through the planning process with proposals for a three-turbine development near Alford.

The application was suddenly withdrawn in May, with Lord Stephen refusing to reveal why.

Last night, however – as the plans were resubmitted – it emerged that they had been axed because of “factual inaccuracies” in the environmental statement.

Among the claims was that one property located just 400 yards from the proposed development was 420 miles away.

It also stated wrongly that objectors living near the proposed turbine site had a financial interest in the scheme.

Last night, one of those campaigners, Caroline Gerrie, of Blackhills Farmhouse, Cushnie, near Alford, said she was livid at the claims.

“The whole application was based on false information so in the end we knew it would be withdrawn,” she said.

“My partner and I were scandalised that the application insinuated that we had a financial interest”

Lord Stephen, the former MSP for Aberdeen South, announced earlier this year that he was standing down after 28 years of representing the city and north-east.

He has set up Renewable Energy Ventures with former Body Shop director Michael Ross, from Edinburgh, and together they want to put up turbines on three 325ft towers west of Blackhills Farm.

Council planners returned their environmental statement after finding inaccuracies in four sections. It classed three properties at Blackhills as one and said it had a financial interest in the plan.

There are three homes at the site and, while one does have a financial interest, the other two do not.

The statement also says the properties are 420miles away from the proposed windfarm.

Council planner James Wheater wrote back: “Notwithstanding the typo, the distance of 680 metres (744 yards) is factually incorrect and nearly doubles the actual distance to the nearest turbine.”

One is only 370 metres (405 yards) from the proposed structures, he says, and adds that turbines should be at least 400 metres (437 yards) from homes.

Robert Beck, of Green Cat Renewables – the agent for Lord Stephen’s firm and author of the environmental statement – said the errors in the initial application had been a “genuine mistake”. He said they had relied on information from other sources.

Ms Gerrie, who is chairwoman of Stop Turbines in Cushnie (Stic), moved to the area 18 months ago and put plans to renovate her home on hold following submission of the original proposal.

She said it was frustrating to be facing a fresh fight so soon after the last one.

“As we were about to start building work, this new application appeared that is not fundamentally different from the first,” she said.

Ms Gerrie added: “We will, of course, be objecting to this new application. The only difference after a quick scan of the documents is that they have moved the turbines further up the track, closer to the slopes of Pittenderich and Pressendye hills.”

Another a previous application for a windfarm at Pressendye was turned down and, when Lord Stephen lodged his plans, friend and party colleague Mike Rumbles warned his former leader that he was “in for a fight”.

He said the application was a “cynical and outrageous attempt” to bulldoze through the planning process.

The new plans are now being considered by Aberdeenshire Council.

Lord Stephen did not respond to any of the Press and Journal’s requests for comment.

[also published as “False claims derailed peer’s windfarm plan”]