20th November 2017

Investor’s fury as Fetlar turbine plans are rejected

A businessman who has invested millions in Fetlar has criticised planners for blocking his attempt to build two wind turbines to provide his estate with green energy.

Neil Bellis, of Aithness, Fetlar, said the decision to turn down the 20-metre-high turbines amid noise concerns was based on old plans while the updated plans “clearly warranted approval”.

He appealed the original decision, citing the new plans, but councillors threw it out after hearing evidence that Mr Bellis’ agent had failed to submit crucial information, meaning the original plans stood.

The Fetlar shop was one of the properties bought by Neil Bellis. Photo: Charlie Inkster

Mr Bellis, formerly a Sussex farmer, spent a total of £2 million in Fetlar to buy a family home, 1,700 acres of land, a sheep shed, a house for farm workers, holiday homes, and the Fetlar shop, which also operates as a post office, cafe and guest house. The two turbines would have served all of the properties except the shop.

Speaking after the councillors’ appeal decision, Mr Bellis said: “Our dissatisfaction is not with the members of the planning committee as they clearly regarded themselves as having very little leeway.”

He did however, have strong words for planning officials and the way they handled the application. He claimed his plans had been refused “upon the basis of location plans which had long since been superseded”.

During the appeal meeting, planning official Dale Hunter told councillors that Mr Bellis’ agent, Erlend Tait, should have made clear that formal changes to the original plans were being sought.

He said the planning department would then have decided either to allow the changes or to ask for fresh applications.

Mr Hunter indicated that as that had not happened, the applications stood to be considered in their original condition – which raised concerns that the turbines would pose a noise nuisance.

Anthony Averns, the owner of a campsite next to the site of one of the turbines, had raised an objection because he feared tourists would not like the noise.

“Fetlar is the ‘Garden of Shetland’ – but it’s not going to be the Garden of Shetland if you build more turbines,” Mr Averns said.

Councillors heard that Mr Hunter had asked Mr Tait at least six times for reports proving the turbines would not cause a noise nuisance but the requests were not met.
They also heard that a noise report would have been required for the updated plans if they had been accepted.

Without being satisfied that neighbouring properties would not be disturbed by Mr Bellis’ proposed turbines, councillors rejected both applications – although one went down to a vote, which was settled 3-2.

Mr Bellis, 63, later expressed his frustration that the updated plans had not been on the table for councillors to examine, singling out the planning official for blame.

He said: “The case officer openly admitted at the review that he had at no stage advised Mr Tait that he required him to make a formal request for a variation in the location plan. He said he was under no obligation to do that.

“Mr Tait naturally had assumed that the replacement plans, expressly acknowledged by the case officer, had been accepted as variations.

“If the case officer had told Mr Tait that he had not accepted them, Mr Tait could simply have sent an additional email formally requesting that the variations be made.

“At the very least the handling of these applications by the case officer demonstrates a lamentable lack of courtesy towards Mr Tait and towards me as applicant.

“We would expect a planning officer as a public servant to be helpful and constructive, working with us to achieve a satisfactory conclusion in the interests of all concerned.

“The way in which the applications were refused leaves a very sour taste and it is particularly regrettable that the way in which it was done effectively tied the hands of the planning committee … and prevented a successful appeal where the final plans submitted clearly warranted approval.

“We have lost over 18 months and wasted money.”

In response to Mr Bellis’ comments, head of planning Ian McDiarmid said: “We try our best to work with developers to ensure successful applications and the fact that we approve over 95 per cent of planning applications demonstrates that.

“However, in some circumstances, despite frequent requests for more information, we have no alternative but to go to the refusal stage.

“If either the applicant or the agent is unhappy there’s a complaints procedure and if they are still unhappy they can take it to the ombudsman for an assessment of the way the council dealt with the application.”

About Andrew McQuarrie

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5 comments

  1. paul barlow

    the man is trying to help revive fetlar. its a pity that planning could not just have told the chap to amend his plans. with 1700 acres could he not move the turbine to a new location. maybe the council should be actively supporting the outer isles. maybe our new and energetic northern isles council members should be assisting this chap.

    Reply
    • Roger watson

      Think you miss the point. He hasn’t invested any money in fetlar he has invested money in himself to make money for himself not for fetlar. He has bought up crofts which could have provided several families with income and therefore help repopulate the isle. It must be great to have several million pounds to throw around. He doesn’t give a dam about fetlar only his back pocket.

      Reply
      • Neil Bellis

        Your comment is unfair Roger. We are investing money in Fetlar with the aim of contributing to the regeneration of the island. So far we have managed to reopen the shop and cafe and have created four jobs on Fetlar. Further jobs are likely in the future. Since moving here we have only purchased or agreed to purchase crofts and land when approached by owners who did not have any other prospective purchaser and we have made it clear that if anyone is interested in moving to Fetlar and taking on a croft we will do our best to encourage and assist them.

  2. Shraga Kreska

    I might point out that there are other issues on Fetlar of more concern, but to deal with some of the issues raised here. The question of altruism is ironic since everybody is looking for a means to support themselves. For instance, we have a development officer here who gets paid approx £24000 per annum, set up originally to facilitate a poly-tunnel project for the island which is now finally being built after a 9-year wait – do the math! We have a failed £85,000 electric mini bus awaiting repair. Fetlar Wind established instant permission for two wind turbines which are perilously close to the Skutes nature reserve, for their own profit, the turbines only benefit a very small subset of the island. To launch into the Bellis family as the ogres of all that is wrong with Fetlar is ironic and downright in error. Me and my wife are able to promote Fetlar Aerial Kite Photography and ‘The AdderStane’ (a Fetlar novel) via the Bellis Family – supporting residents.
    Come on people, stop trying to blame others, there’s too much of this on Fetlar already, we are a small community with massive problems, and divided we fall… (www.fetlaraerial.com)

    Reply
  3. John Irvine

    It would be interesting to hear the views of the native Fetlar folk who have lived there all their lives, I would value their opinion long before a few “fly by nights”.

    Reply

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