A leading objector against plans for three 80-metre high wind turbines at Hilton, near Banff, spoke of his “dismay and disbelief” after councillors approved the application last week.
The Banff and Buchan area committee went against their own planning officials who warned that the development at Backhill of Culbirnie, Hill of Culbirnie and Little Blairshinnoch would have an adverse impact on the visual and residential amenity of nearby properties, that their cumulative impact would be detrimental, and that they would have an adverse impact on nearby listed buildings.
Daffyd Neale, of Hilton Cottage, Hilton, said: “I was stunned by what I heard from councillors. I’m in a state of dismay and disbelief.
“My feelings, shared by other objectors, was that the councillors’ minds were already made up before the meeting.
“Nothing that we would say would make any difference. We were given 10 minutes to speak, but I think the councillors were just obliged to let us speak. They were paying us lip service.
“What is the point of professional advice from planners who have been working on the application for a year if the councillors are just going to ignore them?
“By approving these applications, they have opened the floodgate for others. It is now a free for all.”
In their presentations to councillors, Mr Neale and his wife Kirsteen said their family already suffered sleep disturbance at times from the “endless whoosh, whoosh” of blades from the Strath of Brydock turbines two kilometres away, and that the Hilton structures would be half the distance away.
“What is already intrusive will become unbearable”, said Mrs Neale.
She also said that as a farmer’s daughter from Fife she understood about rural development, “but in Fife they have a 2km minimum distance guideline from turbines to nearest residential properties, and not the 400 metres in Aberdeenshire”.
She added: “Thirteen years ago we moved into this beautiful countryside with a lovely rural landscape. Now we have 13 turbines in view, 12 industrial size.
“If these ones go up, we will see them at every turn.”
Mary Cummings, the applicant for the Backhill of Culbirnie turbine, said the diversification would help sustain the family farm which employed local labour.
Alex Fowlie, the project manager for Turriff-based Muirden Energy, the developer of the Hilton sites, said approval would support jobs at both Muirden Energy and Muirden Farm.
A planning officer said his department was concerned about the impact the turbines would have on the settings of surrounding key cultural sites such as A-listed Inchdrewer Castle and Duff House.
The “very exposed farmland” involved would also mean the structures would be visible from all the surrounding main transport routes.
He also spoke of the “cumulative effect” of the turbines, with a “build-up of 40-plus sites either approved or pending within five kilometres of Hilton”.
He added: “The service is concerned that these turbines would add to the impact of existing turbines because of their contours and the open aspect of the countryside.
“We are at capacity now, and any further turbines would change the character of the landscape.
“The views of the neighbouring houses would also be dominated by them”.
Moving that the Backhill of Culbirnie application be granted, Councillor Ian Gray said: “The countryside changes and agricultural buildings have got bigger. We would be neglecting our duty as councillors if we did not support the development of a rural area”.
Backing him, Councillor Brian Topping said: “Turbines are a very emotive subject and there is an element of NIMBY about them, but it is vital that we support farmers in diversifying.
“We have a duty to save our planet, we are safeguarding jobs and providing important green energy”.
Councillor Jack Mair said specific sites should be identified for turbines – “they should not be put here, there and everywhere”. He added: “This is the prettiest countryside in the world. In a few years, it won’t be”.
Councillor Sydney Mair said: “Councillors have been put as piggy in the middle here”.
Later, regarding one of the other Hilton applications, he added: “We have been left with an impossible decision. We need more guidance from the Government. We must be close to saturation point”.
Councillors voted 6-2 in favour of the Backhill of Culbirnie application, and also backed the two neighbouring applications.
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