A Government minister is demanding answers from a North-East airport that agreed to drop safety-related objections to renewable energy schemes after striking a £10,000 deal with the developer.
Aviation minister Robert Goodwill said it appeared “strange” that Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) had lifted its concerns over plans for wind turbines at Melsonby and Gilling West, near Richmond, weeks after stating they could confuse air traffic controllers.
DTVA, which has seen passenger numbers drop from 900,000 in 2006 to 161,092 in 2013, sent two letters to Richmondshire District Council on August 20 objecting to the 26m-high turbines.
The letters, signed by its strategic planning director, Peter Nears, said the rotation of the wind turbine blades would create clutter in the form of twinkling or form false tracks on radar screens.
He stated: “This effect can be highly distracting for a controller and can cause confusion when trying to distinguish between real aircraft and false targets.
“As a result, the safe operation of the airport could be compromised.”
Mr Nears urged applicants Alternative Energy Consulting, which is based in Frosterley in Weardale to “discuss the possibility of dealing with this impact by applying mitigation”.
The district council’s planning committee heard the firm agreed to pay DTVA £5,000 per application and, ahead of the meeting, DTVA sent letters stating it was lifting its objections.
The authority’s leader, Councillor John Blackie, said: “The objections by the airport were a show-stopper for the schemes, but once they had been lifted we were able to approve the Gilling West plan.
“You are not going to change a radar system for £5,000.”
He said the authority had imposed conditions on the Gilling West plan that the turbine must not to be brought into use until the agreed radar mitigation measures had been implemented by the airport.
It is understood Alternative Energy Consulting was dismayed at being asked to pay £10,000.
A spokesman for Alternative Energy Consulting declined to comment.
When asked what radar mitigation measures a £5,000 payment would be used for and whether the money was related to the withdrawal of the objection, a DTVA spokesman declined to detail its plans.
He said: “Wind turbines that show up on the airport’s radar can impact on air traffic operations, resulting in significant costs being incurred in relation to short-term measures which may have to be put in place to mitigate the issues and longer-term technical solutions.
“Wind developers generally recognise the need to ensure that their turbines do not effect either airport operations or public safety and are willing to make a contribution to the cost of solutions if their schemes progress.”
Scarborough and Whitby MP Mr Goodwill, who will be briefed by the council, said: “I am somewhat intrigued by how the objections became less important with a relatively small amount of money.
“I would be more than happy to ask the airport what the initial threat was and to seek reassurances that these turbines won’t compromise passenger safety.”