St Andrews University’s windfarm plans have been dealt a blow by councillors’ refusal to let a cable be laid linking it to the national grid.
The university asked for the go-ahead to run a 33,000 volt cable nine miles underground between St Andrews and Kenly, near Boarhills, where it wants to build six turbines.
Energy produced by the 328ft turbines would be used to power its buildings, including laboratories where world-class research is conducted and student residences.
However, Fife Council’s north east planning committee refused its planning application due to concerns about traffic disruption, impact on residential amenity and insufficient information about how trees would be protected along the route via Stravithie, Lathockar and the A915.
It also again refused to amend a condition attached to the planning consent already issued for the turbines, which would have allowed work to start on site before agreement is reached with the Ministry of Defence on radar mitigation.
Many were worried about the impact of the cable, including fears about the perceived health risk from electromagnetic fields, and councillors criticised the university’s lack of communication with the public.
The university said the committee had disregarded robust assessments of its own planning, transport, structural and environment officials, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.
A spokesman said: “What this decision confirms, however, is that the university was right not to engage in any detailed consultation with the community before plans were approved.
“Until planning experts and councillors are able to agree on what’s possible, we would simply be consulting on thin air.
“Without that clarity what is now at stake is our best chance to counter the damaging effects of future energy price rises and protect local jobs.
“We will consider our position once we have had opportunity to review the full judgement.”
The university has already warned that the project has been put at risk by a delay in agreeing a mitigation scheme with the MoD to prevent interference with radar at Leuchars.
However, planning consent allowing work to start on site may be issued imminently by a Scottish Government reporter as the university has challenged an earlier refusal by the committee to amend the radar condition.
During its deliberations, several members of the committee criticised the university’s lack of engagement with the public over the cable planning application.
Committee member Councillor Elizabeth Riches said: “I think it’s absolutely disgraceful that the university chose to ignore not one, not two but three community councils who are statutory consultees.
“Not one of them has had the courtesy from the university to explain what it is they are trying to do, to give some reassurance.
“As a result people have had to object because they do not know what is going on.”
Council planner Martin Patrick said the university was not required to conduct pre-application consultation and the committee was reminded that similar infrastructure works could be conducted by public bodies without the need for planning permission.
Mr Patrick also insisted people’s concerns had been taken very seriously before a recommendation was made that the application be approved.
The committee did, however, approve an amendment to one condition in relation to the windfarm which had the affect of renewing planning application, due to expire in October, for three years.