Eight 330-feet high wind turbines can be built in the countryside near Greenock, the Scottish Government have decided – as long as a way can be found to make sure the wind farm doesn’t affect air traffic control radar systems.
The wind farm is proposed for parts of Burnhead, Lurg and Maukinhill Moors and Corlic Hill within Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. Inverclyde Council refused permission for it in December 2014 on grounds that it would interfere with air traffic control radar and have an unacceptable impact on the landscape. The plan had attracted around 700 objections. Applicant Inverclyde Renewables appealed against the decision.
A public inquiry was held before Government planning reporter David Buylla. In his report, he concludes that there would be “significant” but acceptable visual impact and that the “benefits of the proposal outweigh its adverse consequences.”
The turbines would be 213 feet (65 metres) high at the hub level with a blade-tip height of up to 110 metres (330 feet). The 209-hectare site is about 2.4 kilometres south of Greenock town centre and the nearest turbine would be about 1.2 kilometres from houses on the southern edge of the town. Inverclyde Renewables estimates that each turbine would generate between two and three megawatts of power.
Mr Buylla agreed that a “suspensive condition”, that has been used in other wind farm cases, “would prevent the scheme being implemented until such time as the affected parties were satisfied that appropriate mitigation for radar impact was in place.”
He stated: “Drawing all of the evidence together, I am satisfied that potential technical solutions to both NERL’s (National Air Traffic Services En Route Limited) and GAL’s (Glasgow Airport Limited) concerns over effects on air traffic control operations at the Prestwick Centre and Glasgow Airport have been identified.
“Notwithstanding the concerns that have been put forward by GAL and NERL, it is likely that a solution could be introduced within a reasonable timeframe.”
He imposed a condition insisting that, before development can start, a radar mitigation scheme, must be submitted to and approved by Inverclyde planning authority to ensure that the wind farm “does not endanger the safe and efficient movement of aircraft or the operation of Glasgow Airport or the Prestwick Centre.”
On the issue of visual impact, Mr Buylla disagreed with the council. He stated: “With regard to wider visual amenity effects, there are issues of private amenity for the small number of individual properties who would be most affected. There would also be broader effects on the public more generally as a result of the proposal’s visibility from Greenock and other settlements. I conclude that visual effects on settlements, although significant, would not be unacceptable, as the proposed turbines would be visible (to varying degrees) but, even where they would be clearly seen, they would not be dominant or overly intrusive.
“Effects on a limited number of individual properties on Garshangan Road and at Auchenfoyle Cottage would be of greater significance. However, despite the clear view of the turbines that residents of these properties would have, for none would there be the impression of turbines dominating or encroaching upon the domestic setting.”
He continued: “With regard to impacts on the site and its immediate surroundings, I have borne in mind that commercial-scale wind energy proposals will inevitably create significant effects within their immediate surroundings. If such effects were always considered to rule out a proposal, no commercial-scale wind energy projects would be approved. This would be contrary to Scottish Government policy.
“In this instance, I do not regard the site and its immediate surroundings as having a particularly high level of visual amenity at present. And the aspect of the site that contributes most to its visual amenity in my assessment – the extensive views out across the Firth of Clyde – would, from many locations within the site, not be undermined by the proposal.”
He added “From my inspection of [Clyde Muirshiel] park, I conclude that the character of the landscape within a significant core area of the park would not be significantly affected by either the appeal proposal or earlier wind energy development.”
He adds: “The most significant positive aspect of the appeal proposal is the contribution it would make to the delivery of low-carbon energy. The output of the proposed wind farm is estimated at between 16 and 24 megawatts, which represents a valuable contribution to Scottish, UK and international targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction and the use of renewable energy.”
Mr Buylla continued: “I agree that the turbines would significantly affect views from within the town [Greenock]. However, I do not accept that this is necessarily harmful. It is an expected characteristic of most urban centres that there will be a range of landmark features visible from any particular location and that the composition of views will change as one moves around. Greenock’s townscape is very attractive in places but has clearly evolved significantly and in wildly contrasting forms over the past two centuries.
“There is no evidence that the town has evolved around a desire to preserve certain important vistas. Therefore, the new focal point that the proposed wind farm would introduce from some locations within the town does not offend any established townscape design principle of which I have been made aware. The presence of several tall buildings within the town centre, which already break up the skyline and filter views as one moves through the town centre, would actually tend to reduce the visual impact of the proposal.”
He notes that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) believe that the nature and scale of the proposal in what it regards as a highly sensitive coastal location “would cause significant adverse landscape and visual effects.” It identifies the location of the proposed wind farm as particularly sensitive within the Loch Thom unit of the Rugged Moorland Hills LCT [landscape character type], as it lies at a point of transition between the settled shoreline townscape and the upland area to the south. It notes the relative naturalness and remoteness of this location when compared with the nearby urban area and its value to local residents and visitors.
But Mr Buylla comments: “The landscape character of the site and its immediate surroundings is not especially dramatic or attractive and could not reasonably be described as having a remote or especially natural character. In this respect, I consider that it has a different, and less sensitive character than the land further to the south. However, it is undoubtedly an important resource for local people, offering an opportunity to enjoy a relatively large-scale and relatively undeveloped landscape within close proximity of their home. From my inspection of the site it was clear that the proposal would have a significantly adverse effect on the character of the landscape within and immediately adjacent to the site because it would introduce very large industrial structures that would dominate the site and become the defining landscape characteristic. Apart from regular interruption by aircraft noise, the location is also relatively quiet and I conclude that the noise as well as the appearance of the development would detract from the relatively peaceful character of this location.”
His report concludes: “I find that the benefits of the proposal outweigh its adverse consequences and I conclude that, subject to appropriate conditions, it should be supported.”
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