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Orkney councillors turn down request for more time to build wind farm

Orkney councillors have turned down a request for more time to start building the turbines at Costa Head, Birsay.
Orkney councillors have turned down a request for more time to start building the turbines at Costa Head, Birsay.

Orkney council’s planning committee have turned down an application from a wind farm developer asking for more time to get started on one of their projects.

Planning permission for Edinburgh-based Hoolan Energy’s four-turbine development at Costa Head, Birsay, will expire this April.

The developer had initially asked the council for five years to be added on to the three-year time limit they had to begin building the project.

They had also asked for five years to be added on to a 25-year time limit to have the project up and running.

However, this is not what was considered by the planning committee.

Instead, they considered extending the three-year limit to 10 years and keeping the 25-year limit as it is.

The council said these changes would fall in line with recent wind farm decisions made by Scottish Ministers.

In particular, with the recent decisions made on applications the council put to the government for its own wind farm projects in Hoy and Quanterness.

Hoolan’s turbine proposals for Costa were turned down by the council’s planning committee in August 2018.

However, this decision was overturned in April 2019, after an appeal was made to the Scottish Government.

The same transpired for another Hoolan project at Hesta Head, in South Ronaldsay.

Council changed recommendation based on government’s decision on Hoy and Quanterness wind farms

Despite the Scottish Government being the body that gave the projects the thumbs up, it fell to Orkney council’s planning committee to decide whether to give the developer more time.

Councillor Owen Tierney said it was “kind of funny” that the committee was being asked to approve the extension on a condition they refused in the first place.

The development director with Hoolan, Lizzie Foot explained their position.

She said the Costa Head turbines would provide a significant contribution to the needs case for the new interconnector between Orkney and the Scottish Mainland.

However, she said the Costa project has been “absorbing grid connection delays” around the interconnector and a grid offer connection is expected to be delayed once again.

The planning committee heard from three objectors at the meeting.

Jason Scholfield and Jim Leitch, who are both Evie residents, spoke and had a letter read out, respectively.

Objector says developer has had ample time to get started

Mr Leitch said the applicant had had “ample time” to build their wind farm.

Noting that with Orkney council entering into the commercial wind farm business, he said he sees the council and Hoolan Energy as commercial businesses with “a common goal” in getting permission for a new interconnector to mainland Scotland approved.

There were also concerns about the project’s effect on peregrine populations.

A letter of objection from the RSPB was also read out. The organisation said it was concerned by the council considering giving Hoolan 10 years to build when it had only asked for five more.

The RSPB said data could be up to 15 years old by the time the turbines are up and this could invalidate the environmental assessment.

Councillor John Ross Scott moved to approve the application but there was no seconder.

The committee’s chairman Rob Crichton then moved to refuse.

He said: “I chaired the meeting where the original decision was to recommend for refusal.

“I took the Scottish Ministers reporters at true value and I’m happy with the conditions that were put on it. I don’t feel there’s been proper justification as to why things should have changed.”

A similar application for Hoolan Energy’s Hesta Head development is still awaiting a decision from the council.

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