THE new chairman of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee has claimed its members do not have the “necessary technical expertise” to determine if the erection of temporary anemometer masts, up to 100 metres high, are really necessary to gather data on the suitability of sites for potential wind farm developments.
And Councillor Ron Smith (Hawick and Hermitage) wants to know if there are other, less physically obtrusive, means of allowing renewable energy companies and their agents to collect the required information.
Up to now, the vast majority of bids for these so-called “met masts”, which are becoming a ubiquitous feature of the Borders landscape, have been granted by the local planning authority which has a duty to treat all applications on their merit.
And the fact the slender structures are likely to be precursors to full-blown wind farm developments is not considered a material planning issue.
But in March, more than 30 residents living near a site at Ayton in Berwickshire objected to a met mast being erected and the planning committee agreed that its visual impact would be unacceptable and rejected the application.
And on Thursday, the new committee considered 13 objections to a proposal for an 81-metre high anemometer mast, with associated equipment, in the Dykeraw forestry plantation, four miles south of Bonchester Bridge.
On this occasion, councillors supported the application, although they ordered that the mast must only be in place for two years and not the three years which the applicant had sought “to allow sufficient time for construction, wind speed information to be gathered and the mast decommissioned”.
The objectors included two local action groups, set up to fight wind farm bids already submitted: the Minto Hills Conservation Group and the Chesters Wind Farm Action Group.
They contended the mast, made of tubular steel and anchored by guy wires, fell within the 7km buffer zone from the iconic viewpoint of the Carter Bar and was therefore visually unacceptable.
But local planning officer Deborah Chalmers recommended approval, stressing there would be no long-term impact on the landscape, adding: “This conclusion should not be taken as an indication of the acceptability of wind farm development upon the site.”
After the decision, Mr Smith, supported by his committee, called on SBC planning officials to prepare a briefing for elected members on the basic and minimum specifications required for wind speed data collection.
“While we accept met mast bids must be considered on their merit, there may be other means, not least Met Office information and the use of desk top technology, which obviate the need for structures of such height which, in themselves, raise serious local concerns about visual impact.
“At the moment, I feel we simply do not have the necessary technical expertise to inform our decision-making.”