Highlands & Islands

Anger at decision to refuse wind turbines on Uists

Rapier system Image copyright MOD
Image caption The Western Isles has the UK's largest live-firing rocket test range

A row has broken out over the refusal of planning permission for five wind turbines on the Uists after concerns they would affect military radar.

The Scottish government has turned down plans for two turbines on North Uist, two on South Uist and one on Benbecula.

The government said it recognised there were tensions between the needs of island communities and the military.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and a community group have reacted angrily to the situation.

The radar is needed for the Hebrides Range - the UK's largest test area for missile systems such as the surface-to-air Rapier.

Set up in the 1950s, the range has sites on Benbecula, North and South Uist and a radar station on Hirta in the remote St Kilda archipelago.

The range offers the largest area in the UK for the live-firing of rockets and missiles. About 200 staff run it.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) opposed the plans for two community wind turbines in North Uist, two at Bornish on South Uist and a fifth proposed for land near the Dark Island Hotel on Benbecula.

The MoD said the turbines would affect the operation of radar.

The Scottish government said it wanted to find a way to balance the needs of the range and those of local communities.

A spokeman said: "We recognise the tensions between the operation of the radar systems in the Uists and securing economic benefits for the island communities, and will continue to work with the comhairle and the MoD to identify potential ways forward."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The MoD says turbines can affect air defence radar systems

Comhairle leader Angus Campbell said the developers involved had been frustrated by delays in getting decisions on their projects.

He said: "From today, I seriously hope that we can work with the MoD to identify areas where wind turbine development can be accommodated and continue to investigate the possibilities of mitigation or measures that can allow development of the radar constrained areas for the future.

"I would expect the Scottish ministers' assistance to facilitate these discussions with the MoD."

North Uist Development Company said the government's decision had come as a "kick in the teeth".

It also criticised the MoD, saying that it had initially raised no objection to the turbines proposed for North Uist.

In a statement it said: "North Uist has been dealt a bitter blow this week with the announcement by the Scottish government that they are refusing planning permission for North Uist Development Company's wind turbine development at Locheport.

"This project, which has taken four years to reach this point, would have delivered a cash benefit to the island in excess of £200,000 annually for 15 years, rising to more than £450,000 in the years after that - a massive injection of funds which could have made an enormous difference to the lives of people in our community."

It added: "Unfortunately the MoD belatedly decided to object to the project."

'Aircraft-like return'

In June, the MoD succeeded in overturning the comhairle's decision approving three wind turbines in the Western Isles.

The MoD challenged the local authority's decision to grant three crofters permission to build turbines.

The comhairle approved plans for two turbines at Bornish and one at Frobost on South Uist.

The MoD said wind turbines could interfere with air defence radar systems.

It said the machines could produce a false "aircraft-like return" and affect the detection capabilities of radar systems.

The risks arose when a certain level of proliferation of turbines in a localised area was exceeded, it added.

The MoD raised judicial review proceedings at the Court of Session in Edinburgh over the permissions granted by the comhairle.

Following a hearing before judge Lord Doherty the decisions of the comhairle were set aside.

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