Skeld-based crofter refused permission for wind turbine

Councillors voted narrowly today to stand by a decision to deny a crofter the chance to set up to wind turbines on his holding.

Michael Boyes had applied to set up the 5Kw turbines on 12-metre masts at Grindins in Westerskeld, helping to provide his land with renewable energy.

The council had turned down his application amid fears the turbines would be placed too near to an ancient Yahaarwell standing stone, recognised as being of “national importance”.

There were also concerns from nearby residents who said the turbines would be closer to their property than to Mr Boyes’ own home. That, they said, risked exposing them to excessive noise and television flicker or interference.

Meanwhile Historic Scotland had argued a single turbine situated further away from the ancient monument would ease the pressure on the area.

The council’s planning committee undertook a review of that decision, under powers granted to it following the recent council reorganisation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bill Manson – who is Viking Energy’s chairman – said he would welcome anything which encouraged renewable energy.

However, Mr Manson moved against the plans, given the “potential impact” on archaeology. “I think just as renewables are planned to be a big part of Shetland’s future, at the same time our archaeology and the potential interest it holds, but also the economic impact it has, must be considered,” he said.

“This is an area that is clearly of archaeological significance. It seems to me there are alternative sites for a single, or a pair of turbines, available with less impact.”

Mr Manson was backed by Laura Baisley. While she had sympathy for Mr Boyes, she warned the council could ill-afford to ignore Shetland’s rich archaeological heritage.

“I am all for developing renewable energy,” Mrs Baisley said. “But we have got to be careful about where we put it.  If we don’t draw the line somewhere we’ll end up with Shetland bristling with turbines.”

However, Josie Simpson mounted a rearguard action to approve the plans. He said: “I’m not convinced there’s a clear case to refuse. I’d like to encourage as many young people to come in to Shetland as we can.

“That’s our policy – to build up the population in Shetland. We have to make it as attractive as we possibly can, and renewables play a very big part in that.”

Mr Simpson was seconded by Iris Hawkins, but they lost out 4-2 in the vote.

Archaeologist Val Turner argued that the landscape in the area had remained largely unchanged for 5,000 years. She called for a close eye to be kept on the development, should it be given the green light.

Ms Turner said help was at hand for people looking to set up turbines, as long as they sought assistance before placing their application with the council.

“We would encourage people to come to us pre-application, when we can give all sorts of advice. Planning practice is moving more and more towards that,” she said.

In a letter to the SIC’s infrastructure department Ms Turner argued there was a potential for more historical relics to be found.

“An important feature of the area is that six stone knives were found in the vicinity of the standing stone . . . [which] does indicate that this is a ritual landscape and there is the potential for other important finds to be made,” she wrote.

Mr Boyes admitted that he had not had an archaeological survey carried out, although he had sought assistance from Historic Scotland.

He said the turbines proposed were smaller than standard units and produced less noise. “We’re off the bottom of the noise chart,” he said.

Mr Boyes had to be reined in by chairman Frank Robertson after arguing the application should be considered in tandem with similar, alternative plans for a single-turbine development.

“I’ve been charged for two sets of planning fees. I would propose we proceed on that basis,” Mr Boyes said.

Mr Robertson insisted the committee was only dealing with one application, however. “At the moment we’re addressing the application for two wind-turbines,” he said.

The chairman admitted Mr Boyes could theoretically prove his neighbours would not be disturbed by noise levels, but insisted: “Often in practice, it’s different.”

Interestingly, the Yahaarwell standing stone used to have a twin. A few metres away lies the prostrate stone of a similar size. The story goes it was knocked over during a New Year football match many moons ago.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael Boyes

    • July 27th, 2011 21:44

    Dear Editor,
    In response to your report of our failed planning application for the wind turbines at Wester Skeld, I feel that the following information will help provide your readers with some background to the report.

    The wind turbines were intended to provide renewable energy to the croft, this would be primarily in the form of heating for the 200 year old croft house at Grindins. We have invested heavily in the fabric and structure of the building over the past four years to ensure that it can continue to support the croft for future generations. The energy requirements of an old croft house such as ours are unsustainable, Shetland has the worst carbon emissions of any region in the UK , failure for us to address the energy issue would make our family’s investment pointless.

    The original planning application was submitted via the governments planning website on 22/11/2010 this followed a period of 8 weeks where both ourselves and funding agent were unable to get comment or input to our proposals from the SIC planners due to their current workload.
    The idea of using two smaller turbines rather than one larger was supported by discussions with Historic Scotland’s Inspector of Ancient Monuments (Oliver Lewis). Who similarly felt that this would have a smaller impact on the landscape and setting of Yahaarwell than a single larger equivalent. Historic Scotland’s submission to the planners explicitly did NOT object, but did offer further advice on the application.

    An archeological survey is not a requirement for an application such as this and was not requested by the planners. A survey of Yahaarwell was scheduled by Historic Scotland during the application, however the local archaeologist failed to turn up on the day. Had they attended they would have known that there is infact three standing stones at Yahaarwell, not two.

    As part of the detailed application we had included measures to mitigate against the potential for uncovering archaeology whilst excavating the two 9m² foundations. Whilst there is much of archeological interest over the remaining 42 acres of hill, there are no known features on these two small locations or within the immediate 200m. In addition to this, to minimise potential effects to undiscovered archaeology we had taken care to select a turbine that does not require cranes or heavy lifting equipment for the annual servicing, the towers include an integral hydraulic lowering mechanism.

    The position of the turbines was selected by Shetland Windpower following a site visit and was specified inline with the requirements of the government’s MCS accreditation scheme for small scale renewables. The turbines were to be a full 180m (590ft) from the nearest neighbour and further from Yaarhwell. At this distance it was felt that there would be no noise impact as the selected turbine achieves the BWEA Reference Sound Level at only 60m. Something that the larger turbines cannot replicate.
    During the lengthy planning process, a number of alternative arrangements and locations were discussed with the planners; whilst several of these were agreeable, the original application could not be amended due to planning regulations. We were advised at that time to submit an appeal with one of these proposals. Unfortunately, on the day of the review only the application in its original form would be considered.

    The planners have left open other options for wind turbines on the croft. However, contrary to their advice, I still believe that the larger turbines are inappropriate for this area. We will continue to work with them to seek a sympathetic option which will be agreeable to all parties.

    As a crofting community we must address the issue of sustainability and energy supply for the future. Failure to do so can only lead to fewer crofts being worked and yet more croft houses being bought up to split from the land and used as holiday homes. We must do all we can to preserve the life in our rural community and support families to stay in the area.
    Best Regards,

    Michael Boyes
    Wester Skeld

  • douglas young

    • July 27th, 2011 23:13

    That development cannot go ahead because “the landscape has remained unchanged for 5000 years” means Viking Energy will be unable to proceed with the development in Central Mainland as it too fits this criteria. If you wish to put people off weaning themselves away from fossil fuels, this is the way to do it. Just as well Ms Turner was not around for the developments at Sumburgh Airport and Sullom Voe.


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