Expert panels provide wind farm answers for locals

November 13, 2013 | Renewables News

A series of special community panel sessions which were set up at the request of residents near a proposed Perthshire wind farm have now been completed.

The sessions – each attended by independent experts – were to provide in-depth technical details to local people hungry for as much information as possible on our plans to build Bandirran Wind Farm, which would comprise six turbines, near Balbeggie.

We had already postponed our planning application due to the level of interest from the community after feedback suggested locals wanted more time to build up the fullest possible understanding of the plans and what they could mean.

Colin Anderson, development director with Banks Renewables, based in Hamilton, said: “Local residents and businesses took the time to give us their feedback – and we listened.

“It was very clear there was an appetite for as much information as possible, so we set up these proactive community panels and ensured credible experts were on hand to answer questions and provide technical information.

“We’d like thank the expert guests and local people who made time to attend. We hope the outstanding questions people had have now been addressed.

“We are now looking forward to submitting our planning application, so that we can move to the next stage where we will get even more feedback.”

Nicholas Morris, a development officer with Voluntary Action Perthshire, agreed to act as an independent facilitator during the three community panel sessions.

He oversaw the process, which included asking attendees to write the issues and questions they wanted to raise on a series of sticky notes. Those were then put on a board and grouped to identify the main themes.

Nicholas, who lives in Perth, said: “I certainly found it interesting and informative and had not realised the extent of what is required to develop a credible planning application for something like a wind farm.

“I think the format encouraged people to raise issues and questions and also to hear the points of view of other local people. By encouraging attendees to write down their questions, we also heard something from people who may not have felt comfortable to speak in a public forum.

“Overall I was impressed with the effort Banks Renewables made. Not everything they had to say was what local people wanted to hear, but it seemed to me that they tried to address the issues raised as clearly as possible.

“As an observer, I think that approach probably had an impact. People who turn out for such events tend to be those with concerns, but I would think that many of them left more confident that the issues of concern to them were being addressed.”

The first Community Panel took place at the Robert Douglas Memorial Institute in Scone – where engineer Alastair Lewis, Technical Manger at Engineering Consultancy Grontmij, answered queries about technical aspects of the plan, including the foundations of the turbines, access routes and identifying private water supplies.

Alastair said: “Banks Renewables take the community engagement process very seriously and  I was very happy to be part of this process by answering engineering-related questions from local people and set their minds at rest that the project is being progressed by a highly experienced engineering team in full consultation with the various regulatory bodies.”

A second event was held at Inchture Hotel, when ecologist Simon Green, from Auchterarder-based Heritage Environmental, discussed all of the steps taken to safeguard flora and fauna around the site, including protected birds, bats, badgers and squirrels.

Highly-experienced landscape architect Chris Davis, of Glasgow-based practice TGP, was the expert on hand at the third and final panel session, which took place at St Martin’s Hall in Balbeggie.

He fielded questions about the positioning and height of the proposed turbines and steps that would be taken to reduce their visual impact from Carse of Gowrie as well as a number of other settlements.

Colin Anderson added: “From the earliest stages when we first started scoping this site we have been building relationships with the local community. It is crucial we fully explain our vision for a wind farm that will deliver positive, long term community, environment and economic benefits for local people.”

Banks Renewables is fully committed to engaging with members of the local community throughout the application process and has held several public exhibitions and ‘meet the buyer’ events over the past 10 months. The three panel meetings were set up following feedback from the Bandirran Joint Working Group meetings, suggested local people wanted to know more about the technical aspects of the wind farm.

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