A campaign group has accused Fife Council of a “systematic and deliberate attempt” to withhold information about two windfarm planning applications.
The Clatto Landscape Protection Group (CLPG) submitted a Freedom of Information request to Fife Council in May 2012 to see the initial planning assessments of two windfarm proposals for Clatto Hill.
The Scottish Government’s Information Commissioner instructed the council that it was in the wider interest to make the information public.
However, the council’s planning officers refused to comply. They started an appeal to the Court of Session, but last month abandoned this appeal.
Following a renewed instruction to issue the two reports, the council sent out a report to CLPG, which the group says was obviously not the report requested.
CLPG believes this is part of a systematic and deliberate attempt to block making these reports available to the public.
Subsequent reports which went before councillors recommended approval of the two schemes for a total of 10 wind turbines over 100 metres tall.
However, councillors in three committees overwhelming rejected the proposals. Both developers appealed and a Scottish Government Reporter dismissed the appeals earlier this year. The turbines cannot now be built.
CLPG chairman Greg Brown said: “We had the bizarre situation that councillors, the local community, the case officer and then the Scottish Government Reporter all agreed the schemes were unsuitable. But planning bosses thought they should be approved.
“The reports to councillors were altered from refusal to approval and made strange reading as there were obvious inconsistencies throughout these reports.”
CLPG secretary Stavros Michaelides added: “Although the local community around Clatto Hill are no longer threatened by these particular proposals, all over Fife we continue to see assessments from planning officials which more or less ignore the visual impacts on the people who would live closest to the turbines if they were built.”
Mr Michaelides had been asked by the Information Commissioner to supply a copy of what the council officials have actually sent to CLPG.
He added: “In our group’s view it is totally unacceptable for the council planning bosses to behave in this way, continuously refusing to provide the requested information. It appears that only the threat of legal action forced the council to comply.”
CLPG say they now want to understand how a report recommending refusal can be subsequently turned around to recommend approval.
Mr Brown said: “Secondly, the council must commit to a policy of full transparency in the future.
“Finally, we want to get to the bottom of why there is a continuing problem trying to get both applicants and planning case officers to present proper assessments of wind turbine planning applications in Fife which take full account of the visual impact on people living in the neighbourhood of turbine proposals.”
Jim Birrell, senior manager of development and buildings at Fife Council, said: “All reports submitted for committee consideration contain a full assessment of the relevant material planning considerations, including landscape, visual and amenity factors.
“Fife Council does publish all relevant information and is currently looking at improvements to the way information on windfarm proposals is presented by applicants, including photomontages, and how Fife Council committee reports present this material, particularly in relation to impacts on individual properties.”
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