Useful to have some powerful ex students
St Andrews University is on course to become the first UK university with its own wind farm following a successful appeal to the Scottish Government, but the feud between town and gown looks set to continue.
The proposal to build six 328ft (100m) high wind turbines on Kenly Farm, 6 km east of St Andrews near Boarhills has been hotly contested since it was first aired almost five years ago. Objections focused on the possible damage to the historic landscape and the resulting impact on tourism, St Andrews’ biggest industry as well as the visual and noise impacts on 97 homes within 2 km of the wind farm.Reaction has been fast and furious. Local residents’ group chair John Goodwin said the University “treated Fifers like dirt”, and national anti-wind farm campaign group Scotland Against Spin accused the University of sacrificing “the pursuit of truth to mammon”.
The Reporter’s decision is over four months late and coincides with his refusal of an appeal for West Coast Energy’s five 100m turbine wind farm at Lingo, only a few miles from Kenly (1). Local residents have condemned the apparent inconsistency of the two decisions.
The University wind farm was objected to by community councils, and by local golfing businesses including the Old Course Hotel before being unanimously refused by Fife Councillors. The University appealed to the Government in September 2012 after criticising Fife Council’s handling of the application as “unfair” (2).
Although the University has now received consent, questions are being raised about whether its wind farm will ever be built.
The Reporter imposed 40 conditions on the development, which objectors say will be time-consuming and expensive to comply with, and may derail the project altogether. The MoD has stipulated that the turbines cannot go ahead without radar mitigation, for which no proven technology exists as yet. As a former RAF site, Kenly is also believed to be contaminated with radium.
Kenly Landscape Protection Group is considering a legal challenge on the grounds that the University does not have a licence from OFGEM to operate. In a landmark ruling last week, Lady Clark of Calton declared that applications for wind farms over 10 MW where the applicant did not possess a relevant OFGEM licence (or exemption) were unlawful (3).
COMMENTS ON KENLY and LINGO decisions from local residents’ groups, Boarhills Community Council and local and national campaigners:
John Goodwin, Chair of Kenly Landscape Protection Group which has spent four years campaigning against the proposal on behalf of local residents, commented:
“Local residents and objectors are disappointed they had to find out about this decision from a student newspaper website on Friday. Nobody at the University or at the Scottish Government had the grace to inform us directly.
But there again this is typical of the whole shameful history of the University’s campaign to cash in on wind subsidy – because that’s what it’s all about: not a single turbine would be going up without the 100% subsidy and the tens of millions that will come out of poor consumers’ pockets will go straight into University coffers.
The University’s campaign has been characterised by ignoring, misleading and misrepresenting the local people who live round Kenly and in Fife. Every single Councillor voted against this wind farm; local communities were wholeheartedly against it. The University has treated Fifers like dirt.
We are baffled why the Reporter decided the undoubted impact on residential amenity at Kenly was acceptable when it wasn’t at Lingo. 97 homes lie within 2 km of the wind farm which will inflict an overbearing visual impact, noise and shadow flicker on many of them. People’s enjoyment of their homes will be diminished and house prices will inevitably fall. Similarly holiday homes and other rental accommodation will find it harder to find tenants.
The Reporter attached no less than 40 conditions to his consent for Kenly. These conditions relate to acknowledged problems at the site, a number of which will be very expensive, if not impossible to mitigate. For example, the risk of radium contamination at Kenly, a known burial site for aircraft painted with radioactive glow-in-the-dark paint, is recognised but uninvestigated. Radium is highly toxic and dislodging even a tiny amount during excavation of the site will turn it into a no-go area like Dalgety Bay.
Another condition is a response to an MoD objection that the turbines would interfere with radar and undermine national security. The suspensive condition gives the University three years to find a technological solution to the radar problem, for which no proven solution currently exists.
Ordinarily, one might expect the Reporter to refuse a development which required so many conditions, or indeed a developer to abandon a site that is so problematic and potentially expensive. Should the University nevertheless press ahead, local residents will be watching closely to ensure the University complies with all these conditions and requesting regular updates from the relevant authorities.
KLPG is also looking into the possibility of judicial review based on Lady Clark’s ruling last week that unless wind farm applicants have a licence to generate from Ofgem (or an exemption from DECC) their application is incompetent. The University of St Andrews has no such licence. We wrote to the Chief Reporter last week to warn her that any consent would be unsafe on these grounds.”
Since the St Andrews newspaper broke the news on Friday, the internet has been buzzing with primarily negative comment (eg. facebook and under the Saint’s article). The University has been accused of acting like a classic “green nimby” by siting its wind farm well away from its centres of operations and accommodation. Deborah Pender, a Fifer who lives near Kenly wrote:
“This was a very prejudiced decision. It shows a total disregard and discrimination to the local people living in 97 homes within 2km of the site, my home is just over 1km away. In a survey, over 70% of local people said they did not want the ineffectual industrial wind turbines in this internationally renowned area of natural beauty and prolific wildlife. If another survey was conducted now, the figures against this misdemeanour would be considerably higher.
Why put turbines in an area DECC classed as low-wind? It can only be to get the subsidies we all pay, the University will receive in excess of £55 million pounds of our money and the local people will get no benefit whatsoever. The 97 + homes will be unsellable at market value and hundreds of people would be subjected to LFN/Aerodynamic Modulation Noise and ill health.
Fife Council unanimously refused this application. Given that Alex Salmond is a former student of St Andrews University, Ming Campbell – our Lib/Dems MP for this area is employed as the University’s Chancellor, and St Andrews University Principal Louise Richardson is an Advisor to Alex Salmond, this decision looks biased and unjustified and it should be taken to court.
Who do we turn to when our elected MP, MSP and Government totally ignore us?”
Linda Holt, spokesperson for national anti-wind farm campaign group Scotland Against Spin said:
“Many Fifers will be devastated by this undemocratic decision, and paradoxically it is also a very black day for St Andrews University and for the Scottish Government.
The University has used its undoubted clout to push through a development already rejected by the local community and unanimously refused by Fife Councillors. It will wreck the landscape, destroy quality of life for local residents and damage the tourist trade in the East Neuk.This wind farm will become a sorry symbol of the arrogant contempt with which University managers regard St Andrews and Fife. It also marks the moment when the University sacrificed the pursuit of truth to mammon.
This decision has been made on the back of a policy that is unviable and deeply unpopular. Energy Minister Fergus Ewing no longer dares to appear in person at wind farm openings; the time is drawing to an end when he can sign off loathed wind developments from the security of his office.”