Ascog turbine plan ‘not appropriate’, says SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage has added its voice to the growing chorus of opposition to plans for three large wind turbines above Ascog Farm on Bute’s east coast.

In a letter to Argyll and Bute Council planning officer Steven Gove, who is dealing with the application, Elizabeth Pryor, SNH’s operations officer for Argyll and the outer Hebrides, says her organisation has “serious concerns regarding the scale of the turbines and the layout of this proposal”, and believes that in view of those concerns, the development “would not be appropriate in this sensitive location”.

Each of the proposed turbines would measure 74 metres, or more than 242 feet, from the already-elevated ground to blade tip – and according to Ms Pryor’s letter, SNH also believes that the turbines “are under-represented in the photomontages in the environmental statement”, and that its assessment of the proposal has been hindered as a result.

Additionally, Ms Pryor’s letter says that SNH officials “strongly disagree” with section 7.2.3 of the applicant’s environmental statement, which says that “in terms of landscape capacity it should be noted that due to the limitations of the brief, this new capacity study [the Argyll and Bute Landscape Wind Energy Capacity Study of March 2012] offers no specific guidance on landscape capacity in relation to the Ascog Wind Energy Project”.

Ms Pryor’s letter gives the following reasons for SNH’s objection to the plan:

1. The proposal will have significant adverse landscape and visual impacts on an area of Argyll and Bute’s coastal landscape which is distinct and recognised as being a resource of scenic importance within an Area of Panoramic Quality.

2. The development will erode the existing important qualities of the ‘Bute Rolling Farmland with Estates’ landscape character type, setting a precedent for further development of this type and scale in this sensitive landscape setting.

3. The proposal has the potential to affect the integrity of the Kyles of Bute National Scenic Area (NSA) as the development will introduce wind turbines into views from the same as illustrated by Viewpoint 7 – Strone Point.

4. The proposal is contrary to the recommendations of the Argyll and Bute Wind Energy Capacity Study (March 2012) which states that “there is no scope for the small-medium typology (35 to 50m height to blade tip)” and consequently no scope for any larger typologies (50m height or over to blade tip) to be located within this landscape type without incurring significant impacts on a number of sensitivity criteria.

(All four reasons above are reproduced exactly as they appear from Ms Pryor’s letter.)

Her letter further states: “We have not been able to identify any mitigation which will reduce or remove the negative impacts on the distinctive character and sense of place of this regionally important landscape setting due to this development.”

SNH’s “serious concerns” regarding the scale and layout of the turbines are set out as follows:

1. There is a scale disparity between the height of the turbines and the hill on which they sit, as the turbines are 74m to blade tip height and are sited on the Hill of Ascog, which is generally 104m AOD, and therefore the vertical scale of the proposal does not follow our guidance paragraph 4.33 states “A key design objective for a wind farm will be finding an appropriate scale for the wind farm that is in keeping with that of the landscape. To achieve this, the siting and design of the development will need to ensure that the wind farm is of minor scale in relation to the key features of the landscape (typically one third). This scale disparity is illustrated by, for example, Viewpoint 1 – Common Hill, Isle of Bute, Viewpoint 3 – Rothesay and Viewpoint 10 – Wemyss Bay to Rothesay ferry route.

2. The layout has resulted in overlapping turbine rotors and towers as illustrated by Viewpoint 1 – Common Hill, and this visual stacking is an effect that does not correspond to good design principles, as laid out in section 3 of our guidance.

3. The layout and scale of the turbines overwhelm the distinctive skyline of the Isle of Bute as illustrated by Viewpoints 3, 8 and 10, and this does not accord with our guidance paragraph 4.29, which states that “design of a wind farm from key viewpoints and sequential routes should ensure a wind farm does not detract from the character of a distinctive skyline. Care should be taken to ensure that a wind farm does not overwhelm a skyline.

4. The layout and scale of the proposal in its highly prominent position in the landscape results in it being viewed from ferry and recreational boat traffic and from other islands as well as from mainland roads and other key viewpoints.

(Again, the four reasons are given above exactly as stated in Ms Pryor’s letter.)

The letter does, however, agree with the section of the applicant’s environmental statement which foresees no impact on the site of special scientific interest (SSSI) which covers the central lochs of Bute, an area designated for its internationally-important over-wintering population of greylag geese.

* To view the Ascog turbine application and the public comments made so far, click on the link to the right of this article.