A renewable energy company has been given the go-ahead for a new wind farm in Caithness after its appeal to the Scottish Government was upheld.
The decision clears the way for RWE Renewables to install up to 11 turbines at its Camster II Wind Farm development on land some 2000 metres north-west of Tannach Hill.
Its planning application was turned down in January by Highland Council, which ruled that the wind farm “would have a significantly detrimental visual impact”. In March the company appealed to the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division and consent was granted this week.
The turbines will have a maximum tip height of 126.5 metres and will be capable of producing up to 38MW of electricity.
The local authority had warned that Camster II would be within “close proximity” to existing wind farms, “creating a substantial array of turbines”.
Keith Bray, the reporter appointed by Scottish ministers, found that the development would “have a logical scale in relation to the landscape and would not be out of scale with the existing turbines”.
In his 43-page appeal decision notice, issued on Wednesday, Mr Bray said that in his view “the level of impact arising would not amount to a development which should be considered unacceptable” in terms of the Highland-wide Local Development Plan.
A spokesperson for RWE Renewables said yesterday: “RWE is pleased to have been granted consent for Camster II onshore wind farm in Caithness. We are now reviewing options for the site and development over the coming months and will communicate with local stakeholders and community groups the next steps of the project as soon as possible.”
At the time it lodged its appeal, RWE Renewables said it remained convinced that the Camster II site was a suitable location for a wind farm and that it would deliver benefits to the local area.
The original Camster Wind Farm, situated nearby and consisting of 25 turbines with a tip height of up to 120m, was commissioned in 2012 and has an output of 50MW.
Highland Council had argued that Camster II would be close to the existing Camster/Wathegar/Wathegar 2 and Achairn developments, “filling in an area currently left open” and “changing the nature of this existing rural landscape to one which is characterised by wind farm development”.
It said this cumulative view “would be experienced in close proximity and on a daily basis by residents who live in and around the rural communities of Watten and rural areas including Newton Row, Tannach and Badlibster where the cumulative impact of wind energy development would significantly impact on the established level of amenity and the rural setting”.
In his report, Mr Bray noted that “at the heart of this appeal is a difference of opinion on the acceptability of visual impact”.
He said he did not consider that Camster II Wind Farm would represent a significant additional visual impact on the North Coast 500 route.
At one viewpoint, around the Yarrows Archaeological Trail, the proposal “would not extend the horizontal extent of turbines but would intensify the scale and number of turbines, presenting a more complex image together with Camster Wind Farm”.
Mr Bray went on: “Wide views are also seen across Caithness from this area and out to sea towards the south-east. I do not consider that the addition of Camster II Wind Farm would create a sense of turbines dominating views from the area. The combined cumulative visual effect would, in my view, be moderate.”
He said the developer had accepted that the core path through Blingery Forest “would be subject to significant visual effects near the site”, adding: “This is a route already almost wholly within sight of wind turbines and those walking the route would be aware of that… Having walked on the route, I do not consider that the introduction of the 11 new turbines would significantly detract from its use as a core path.”
Acknowledging that there are a number of properties in the area, Mr Bray said he was “not persuaded that the visual amenity impact for individual properties would be so negative that it should be considered unacceptable in terms of residential amenity. I do not consider that properties in the area would be unattractive places to stay.”
He said the properties “are not close enough for turbines to have an overbearing presence”, while new turbines would be partially masked by the intervening land form.
New turbines, he wrote, “would sit relatively low in the landscape and would therefore not appear to be overly dominant features”. Another observation he made was that “landscape views in which the proposal is set do not appear to be of particular scenic interest”.
Mr Bray stated: “I do not consider that the proposed development would have an unacceptable impact on the existing baseline pattern of wind farms. The proposal would consolidate two clusters (which are in close proximity) into one larger array.
“Open views from the A9 to the coast would be maintained as the coastal edge is not directly impacted. The proposal would also have a logical scale in relation to the landscape and would not be out of scale with the existing turbines, albeit with taller turbines.
“In my view, the level of impact arising would not amount to a development which should be considered unacceptable in terms of policy 67 of the Highland-wide Local Development Plan or the landscape and visual criteria of the supplementary guidance.”
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