A complete ban on new windfarm applications would expose Fife Council to significant risk of costly legal action and would not achieve any long-term benefits, the local authority has suggested.
Renewed calls for a moratorium were rejected by the region’s SNP/Lib Dem administration on Thursday, although elected members will be given a chance to consider changes to council policy after May’s elections.
The assertion came after the region’s Tory group lodged a motion asking for a moratorium amid concerns about a ”proliferation” of applications containing turbines up to 120 metres tall on prominent hilltops.
Fife’s Labour group lodged an amendment, later accepted by the Tories, asking for a moratorium, while a consultation on the issue is held – something it believes would give communities time to have a greater say on where turbines could be developed.
However, that amendment was voted down 38-25 by the administration, which said it would be ”premature” to impose such a ban without first allowing members the chance to properly scrutinise its likely impacts.
Instead, it called for a report to be brought forward early in the new administration that will set out the statutory and planning context within which turbine applications must be assessed.
After Fife’s Tory contingent highlighted the effect they believe windfarms are having on the landscape and tourism, Councillor John Beare, chairman of Fife’s planning committee, stressed wind turbine applications are considered on their own merit but said turbines are just one part of Fife’s energy mix.
”We only need to look at our colleagues in Perth and Kinross where they have had to spend £900,000 in expenses and claims against them,” he said, referring to the 13 turbines rejected by neighbouring councillors in 2010.
”If we had a moratorium, tell me where the £1 million of cuts are going to come from? We can say ‘no’, but this council would lose its democratic input and decisions would be made elsewhere.”
Labour leader Alex Rowley said there are concerns about the number of applications coming forward and called for an end to the current ”lottery approach” from developers keen to profit from large subsidies available.
He noted: ”If we kick off a consultation now, I think what you’ll see is a major engagement as people are much more aware of it – the benefits but also the threats. The people of Fife have real concerns about this and we owe it to them to consult.”
The issue sparked one of the healthiest debates seen in the council chamber in a long time, with many councillors having their say.
Among them, SNP councillor Alice McGarry said she personally liked turbines ”in the right place,” pointing to a decision to reject a windfarm in Saline as proof of that, while she also criticised the ”nimby attitude” of some people to the devices.
Referring to the Saline situation, Lib Dem councillor Gerry McMullan added: ”I can’t stand this situation where people see it as a quick way to make money. The Saline one was inappropriate in that area. I fully appreciate wind turbines, but where they are appropriate.”
Labour’s David Ross also suggested the council shouldn’t be taken in by developers ”paying off our communities with a pittance” and backed his party’s calls to develop community energy companies in Fife.
UKIP member Mike Scott-Hayward said he felt it is clear ”which way the wind blows” on this particular issue, but he added: ”It’s down to a higher body than us – if we take the road of an unauthorised moratorium, we’re going to cause trouble to our taxpayers. The subsidies are the driver, and since the subsidies have come in the number of applications have rocketed.”
Mr Scott-Hayward’s amendment – to write to the heads of the Scottish and Westminster Governments over the issue – failed to find a seconder.