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Councillors praise then reject turbines proposal

A “first-class” scheme for two wind turbines which could have saved up to 550 county households from fuel poverty earned praise from councillors. . . before they rejected it.

At East Lothian Council’s planning committee last Tuesday, members considered an application by John McGregor for two 71-metre-high turbines within a field about one kilometre south-west of Ferneylea Farm, south of Oldhamstocks.

The application was supported by Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association (CREHA), which said it had been working to develop a model that would link the turbines to producing an energy supply for its residents.

A report presented to the committee by the council’s executive director of environment stated: “Two integral parts of the model are the successful development of wind turbines on the applicant’s land and the supply of electricity to Castle Rock Edinvar’s customer base, including their tenants in East Lothian.

“The key driver for taking this model forward is this planning application being approved by East Lothian Council.”

Mr McGregor, speaking at the meeting, said 32.5 per cent of all householders in East Lothian were in fuel poverty – between 11,000 and 14,000 people.

He claimed that his plan could reduce that figure by between 3.5 and four per cent, helping between 450 and 550 homes.

Alister Steele, of CREHA, told the meeting his firm had about 540 properties in East Lothian, most of which were tenanted by “vulnerable people”.

He said of the plan: “We will be trying to reduce carbon emissions and also reduce fuel poverty among our tenants.”

Mr Steele said the scheme was about providing tenants with “price certainty” for their energy over a period of time.

However, the plan had drawn 137 written objections ahead of last week’s meeting.

Grounds of objection included the visual impact of the turbines, their setting close proximity to Oldhamstocks Conservation Area, and an “unacceptable” cumulative impact of turbines in the area.

East Lammermuir Community Council was one of those to object, a spokesperson telling the meeting they were “confident the majority of local residents object to this proposal”.

Angus MacDonald, a resident of Oldhamstocks, warned the meeting that East Lothian could become “saturated” in wind turbines should all live plans get the go-ahead.

He added: “It’s not as if we haven’t done our bit in the county.”

Linda Shaw-Stewart, a member of SABEL (Sustaining a Beautiful East Lothian), called for consistent decisionmaking by councillors, who rejected a number of similar-sized applications including two 40-metre turbines near Traprain Law in January.

The council uses several planning guides for turbine applications – most recently its Supplementary Landscape Capacity Study for Smaller Wind Turbines (December 2011), which relates to turbines up to 120 metres high.

Discussing the plan, Councillor Norman Hampshire (Labour) said the applicant had farmed the site for years and had made a commitment to the area.

“We have an applicant who’s not coming here to make a quick buck,” he added.

“This is somebody who lives here and is committed to the area, and is looking to invest in technology that will benefit his business and other people in East Lothian.”

He called on colleagues to ignore council planners’ recommendation that the bid be rejected.

Councillor Jacquie Bell (Lib Dem) called the plans to reduce fuel poverty “very laudable” but said there was already an accumulation of turbines in the area.

“I must concur with the planning officers,” she added.

Fellow ward member Paul McLennan (SNP), the council leader. said he was “torn” over the plan.

He added: “I can’t go one way to vote against the proposal, because I think its very laudable, but I can’t ignore the capacity study. I’ll be abstaining [from the vote] on this one.”

Councillor Stuart Currie (SNP) said he could “understand entirely” the drive to address fuel poverty but added: “That shouldn’t be a reason to accept an application which goes against policies we’ve adopted.”

While Labour councillor Donald Grant called the plan a “first-class scheme in terms of the energy that would be generated”.

But he disagreed with his party colleague and said councillors had to stick to the guidelines.

Eight members voted to reject the plan; Mr Hampshire voted in its favour and Mr McLennan abstained.