01 November 2006

S2M-4648 Wind Farms (Public Inquiries)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 1 November 2006

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

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Wind Farms (Public Inquiries)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4648, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on public inquiries into wind farm proposals in the Ochil hills. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the large number of planning applications to construct wind farms in the Ochil Hills, with six consecutive public inquiries scheduled between October 2006 and March 2007; considers that all appropriate expert evidence must be made available to such public inquiries; notes the Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development's parliamentary answer on 8 June 2006 confirming that both Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have adequate resources to make representations to public local inquiries, and considers that SNH, SEPA and Historic Scotland should provide witnesses to all pertinent public inquiries so that the burden of providing evidence to such inquiries does not fall disproportionately on communities.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I start by drawing members' attention to my voluntary entry in the register of members' interests declaring shares in a wind farm co-operative in my constituency. I am the only member who has made such a declaration—others may hold shares, but they do not require to make a declaration.

My remarks will focus on the part of the motion that refers to ensuring that

"the burden of providing evidence to such inquiries does not fall disproportionately on communities."

That issue extends beyond the Ochils. The best public inquiry is, of course, the one that does not take place at all because the proposal has been developed so as to bring the community along with it each step of the way.

Andrew Arbuckle mentioned the wind farm in Gigha. That example is a little bit special in that the community owns the site as well as being the instigator of the wind farm. It will be an excellent model for what can happen in many areas, but I am not sure that it can apply in the Ochils.

In my constituency, the proposal was for the development on a brownfield site—a derelict airfield quite closely adjacent to a community—of a seven-turbine, 14MW wind farm. The whole approach of the developer seems to have been quite different from that adopted in Perthshire and the Ochils in particular. Perthshire might learn something from the approach.

Before any public declaration of interest in the development was made, engagement took place with all the elected representatives of the area at all levels—councillors, MSPs and the MP. That engagement enabled the developer to lay out its stall as to how it might work with the community, and it allowed the developer to receive some advice as to how it might proceed—although it was its responsibility to work out the details. That approach led to there being not a single adverse letter in the local press and not a single objection from the local community.

Mr Ruskell: I accept Mr Stevenson's point that it is better to do front-end development work and not to go instantly to a public inquiry. However, does he agree that it is inappropriate for MSPs such as Murdo Fraser to try to drive every single wind farm application, good or bad, to a public inquiry? Such an approach burns out local communities, wastes taxpayers' money and stifles economic development.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that Mr Fraser takes the member's point.

I will point to some of the attributes of a successful development, which could apply to the proposed developments in the Ochils in Perthshire. The local community can benefit substantially financially, even though it does not own the site. For example, a site in Ayrshire delivers £45,000 per annum to its owner. A similar amount goes to the community in my constituency, to whose members shares were made available. Preference was given to local people. Of the 5 per cent of the capital investment that was made available as shares, 95 per cent of the take-up was by people such as me, who can see the turbines. There are some people who do not like the development post hoc, but they are few in number.

I will close by giving an example of a good practical idea that helped to diffuse some early comments about the proposal in my constituency. Six months before it submitted a planning application, the developer put up on the site a pole that was the same height as the proposed turbines. That meant that people from miles around could get an idea of where the development could be seen from. It was an excellent idea.

I close by repeating my opening remark: the best public inquiry is the one that disnae happen. I suspect that SNH and SEPA might just agree, but does the minister?


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