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.
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 He claimed his plans had been refused “upon the basis of location plans which had long since been superseded”.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.”