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3 Wind Turbines For Community Group In Caithness Get Planning Permission

19th June 2012

The north Planning committee of Highland council agreed on Tuesday 19th June 2012 to grant planning permission for construction of a Community Wind Farm at Rumster Forest with Three 900 kW Wind Turbines, with a Height to Hub of 50m and a Rotor Diameter of 50 m, Formation of Access Track and Erection of a Switchgear Building and Associated Cabling.

The applicants were Latheron, Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company formed a few years ago following the set up of an Initiative at the Edge project. The project has carried out a number of community activities and smaller projects to improve the area on the east of Caithness that had a falling population, falling school rolls and markedly growing number of elderly people. It was recognised that if the community were to be able top continue to have future a source of revenue was essential to help with further projects and job creation.

The application was for the development and operation of a wind farm consisting of three wind turbines with an overall generating capacity of 2.7MW. The wind turbines to be employed are from a choice of three machines - Enercon E44 900kW or E48 800kW, or alternatively the Gamesa or Vestas 850kW. The proposal has considered a generic wind turbine of 80m to tip for the purposes of calculating the degree of potential impacts. A new section of access track, a switchgear building and both underground and above ground cabling to link with the national
grid is proposed. This proposal represents the first 'Community' renewable energy development of this scale in Caithness.

The site is located in a clearfelled area at Gaultiquoy within the wider Rumster Forest situated approximately 7 km to the north west of the village of Lybster in east Caithness. The site is accessed directly by forestry track from the C1053 Lybster-Achavanich road which in turn is accessed from either the A9 (T) at Achavanich or from the A99 (T) by Lybster. A roadside public car park is located adjacent to the start of the forestry track at Rumster Forest.

The access route for the turbine components will be via the A99 from Wick Harbour to Lybster and thereafter the C1053 to Rumster Forest and onto the existing forestry track. A short section of new track will be required to link the site with the existing forestry track, widening the existing track to 4m and minor works to the Smerlie Road/A99 road junction are envisaged works to facilitate access to the site.

The landscape is upland in character with areas, outwith the commercial coniferous plantations of Rumster Forest, in heather and rough grass. The nature of the area is remote with no nearby houses or steadings. The general landform continues to rise to the north west to the summit of Stemster Hill whilst the shoulder of land on which the proposal is made eventually falls beyond the application site to the north east. Ground conditions on site are peat overlying rock with surface vegetation becoming re-established following clear felling although the general area remains characterised by brashings and tree stumps making general access to/across the site, on foot, difficult.

There were 10 objectors to the proposal some of whom are members of an anti wind farm lobbying group. None of the statutory consultees raised any objections although Scottish Natural Heritage asked for mitigations -
The proposal lies approximately 350m from the Shielton Peatlands Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which is a component of the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

It is also noted that the qualifying interests of the East Caithness Cliffs SPA may also be ffected.

SNH note concerns regarding potential pollution arising from the development which require assessment to this end a pollution prevention plan is advised to avoid impacts to watercourses and supported species.

In consideration of bird species it is advised that works are completed outside of the bird breeding season. Thereby avoiding disturbance to ground nesting birds and damage to their nest sites.

Mammals of particular note include Water Voles, Otters and Pine Martins. SNH note licensing requirements regarding works on site owing to the presence of Water Voles and list a number of mitigation methods to be employed.

In consideration of avoidance of breeding seasons for Water Voles the period March to October inclusive is recommended. Other mitigation methods including re-routing of new sections of track, pollution prevention plans, tunnelling under watercourses and pre-construction surveys are advocated.

Impacts to Otters may be mitigated through a pollution prevention plan. Impacts to Pine martins may either be mitigated through construction works being avoided during the breeding season (April - July inclusive) or preconstruction surveys. Landscape and visual interests are appraised to the extent that SNH agree with the conclusions of the Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) noting the adverse impacts upon; the Flow Country and Berriedale Coast Special Landscape Area; the Small Farms and Crofts and Moorland Slopes and Hills landscape character types and sequential cumulative impacts together with the Burn of Whilk
wind farm along the A99. SNH do not believe that the impacts are significantly adverse. It is noted with concern the repeated mention within the LVIA of scope for further development - the application is assessed as presented, comment should not be construed in excess of the current application.

An annex is provided by SNH appraising impacts to the East Caithness Cliffs SPA, Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands SAC and Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SPA. In the main conservation objectives remain undiminished in respect of this development subject to the mitigation methods noted.

In the report the planning officer noted various points including the fact that there would be little affect from noise as the nearest dwelling was over 2 kilometers away from the turbines.

The planning officer pointed out to eh committee that a bond of one million pounds had been considered at an early stage. Vehicle movements and haulage of parts and materials has been raised as concern by the Roads Authority. Of particular concern is the C1053 Lybster-achavanich road which is subject to weight restrictions owing to failures of sections of this road in areas of underlying peat in 1996. This led to the consideration of a substantial roads bond of 1million. On further consideration of all the facts this bond had been reduced to 30,000.


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