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Council refusal of mast overturned

Proposals for a 70-metre wind monitoring mast have been approved after a planning decision was overturned.

Fife Council had refused permission for the mast, which will measure wind speed and direction, to be erected at Hill Top Farm near Saline.

However, the applicant, Noble Foods Ltd, appealed against the decision.

A Scottish Government Reporter allowed the appeal and granted permission for the work to go ahead.

Noble Foods’ original plans to erect the mast north of the B914 Saline to Kelty, to measure the speed and direction of winds at 40, 50, 60 and 70 metres above ground level for up to two years, were lodged in January.

Officers recommended approval, subject to conditions, and felt the plan was acceptable due to its minimal physical and visual intrusion and temporary nature.

South-west Fife area committee refused the application in the interests of visual amenity.

The members felt the applicant failed to demonstrate an acceptable justification in terms of siting and design in the countryside and Cleish Hills special landscape area – this was contrary to the adopted West Villages local plan and draft Dunfermline and West Fife local plan.

The slender 70-metre galvanized steel mast, supported by steel guy ropes, is to be used to assess the potential of the site for a wind energy scheme and advise on the “appropriate and sensitive” design of such a project should it be feasible.

It sits on land owned by Noble Foods north east of Steelend. Applicants argued that although it is in the Cleish Hills special landscape area, the scenery featured a range of commercial and industrial elements – including Knockhill racing circuit, disused quarries, transmission masts on Knock Hill and small-scale wind energy developments.

In appealing, the applicants said it was their belief that the proven need for the development had been clearly stated within the original planning application and the committee attributed insufficient weight to that need.

They also believed that members had overestimated the significance of the mast on the visual amenity and landscape.

The Reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers to investigate the appeal said he did not accept Fife Council’s argument that there was no demonstrable need for the mast.

“There is a firm planning policy support at both national and council level for the development of renewable energy, of which wind power is a major provider.

“The majority of wind turbine developments are located in rural locations and are generally considered an appropriate form of development in the countryside,” the report stated.

He added that Cleish Hills special landscape area was an area of constraint for wind energy schemes but Scottish planning policy indicated that in such areas there were no blanket restrictions.

He added the council’s guidance accepted it was standard practice for developers to erect anemometer masts to evaluate wind energy potential, and he noted recently it had approved a similar mast within a special landscape area.

He said the site had been the subject for a scoping opinion for the erection of a single turbine and, whatever the outcome of any future planning application for a wind energy scheme, anemometry survey was an essential preliminary step for gauging viability, design and environmental assessment.

“So I am in no doubt that there is a need for anemometry and that the mast is necessary to carry out the investigation,” he concluded.

The Reporter also said he was satisfied the mast would be compatible with the scale and nature of surrounding uses of the area.

However, he conceded it did breach the development plan given that it would have a slightly harmful and less than neutral impact on the visual amenity and rural character of the area.

He concluded granting permission for the temporary mast would have no bearing on whether a subsequent wind energy development should or should not be granted permission in the future.