Am Bratach No. 236
June 2011

Assynt crofters to appeal against turbine decision
by Mandy Haggith

The Assynt Crofters Trust is appealing a planning decision by Highland Council in March 2011 which refused them permission for a 6kW turbine at Stoer.

John Robinson, crofting administrator for the trust, said: “We will be putting in an application by mid-June asking the council to put the decision to the planning review body”.

The crofters were surprised not to receive permission after both Stoer school and Stoer Village Hall were granted permission for similar turbines.

The turbine site is set to the east of the main single track road at Stoer, to the south-east of the hall and seventy-five metres north-east of the Albyn Houses at Lochend. The crofters faced a paradox in trying to find a suitable site. In order to minimise landscape impact they were instructed to locate the turbine close to a building, but this inevitably brought it closer to housing that might be affected by its sound.

Ray Mackay, one of the Assynt Crofters Trust directors, said: “It was a condition of our grant that the turbine would provide power for our new office/information centre. Because of the rather small-scale, but very vociferous, reaction against the hall’s turbine application, we explored the possibility of different sites — the hydro-electric scheme at Oldany, which did not have a suitable wind profile, and the deer larder at Culkein Stoer, which was deemed unsuitably close to houses”.

The reasons for refusal given by Highland Council’s planning committee were threefold. Firstly, that the turbine will have a “significantly detrimental impact on the scenic and landscape character of the area”, when considered “on a cumulative basis” with the two other turbines. Secondly, because it will cause “significantly detrimental” noise impact, due to its proximity to the Albyn houses. Thirdly, because it would “set an undesirable precedent making it difficult to refuse applications of a similar nature in the future”.
John Robinson said: “Noise is at least a concrete issue, but scenic and landscape impacts are subjective opinions. Scottish Natural Heritage considered the scenic and landscape impact and they did not object to the application”.

On the question of noise, he said that they had been told only on the day of the planning meeting that they needed to submit noise impact information in a particular form. “This information does not exist in the right format”, said Mr Robinson. He is hopeful that the turbine suppliers, Rendells in Orkney, will be able to produce re-formatted noise data that will prove that their turbine will not breach regulatory noise levels, in time for the appeal.

In the absence of this data, the planning report based its recommendation on the view of an environmental health officer, that the combined noise of the crofters’ and the hall turbines “could, if approved, result in complaints in terms of noise nuisance”. More specifically their view was that at wind speeds of up to ten metres per second, or the top end of Force 5, the combined noise of the two turbines might exceed the permitted standard of thirty-five decibels, an exacting standard as forty decibels is described as “a quiet library”.

Responding to the third reason for refusal of the turbines, the desire not to set a precedent, John Robinson said: “They say they don’t want to set a precedent for allowing three turbines in one place, but if they want to see green energy they should allow this. With gas prices and fuel prices rising at the rate they are, we need as much free power as possible”.

Ray Mackay said: “The decision flies in the face of government and council policy to support community renewable energy schemes”.

Stephanie James, who lives in Stoer and is a member of the Assynt Crofters Trust, was one of the local people who submitted objections to the planning application. She said: “My main concern is about how the decisions are made in the community to apply for major developments like this and who is involved in those decisions. I think if we had had a meeting of minds through a process of discussion before the application we could have reached a consensus view and avoided the polarisation of opinions”.

Bob Robertson, the author of the planning committee report, said that his advice was “that a single turbine in this location serving both Stoer Hall and the Assynt Crofters Trust would be a better visual and landscape option, rather than two separate and unrelated turbines”. He added: “There may be the potential for a slightly larger shared turbine, rather than sharing the existing approved turbine”.

He claimed that “sharing of a single turbine is technically possible”. However, given that Stoer Village Hall has already gained permission and funding for their turbine, it is perhaps implausible to suggest that they might change direction now. Also, the village hall and the crofters trust have quite different constituencies and objectives. Ray Mackay said: “Administratively and logistically it would be very difficult. The original plan was for two smaller turbines as it was thought that they would be much less visually obtrusive than a single, much taller, turbine”.

The Assynt Crofters Trust have lost a grant towards their wind turbine, as Community Energy Scotland required the money to be spent before the end of March. However, they have decided to press ahead with the appeal anyway. Their new office, which they intended to be powered by wind, is already under construction.

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