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(Issue 346, October 2007)
On 6 September the Newsletter received the following email from Mr John Ritchie:
I was wondering if you could feature or help identify the mysterious green structure with a giant white golf ball on top that has appeared during the last few weeks on Bishop Hill, above Scotlandwell and Kinnesswood near Loch Leven.
Driving from any direction towards Loch Leven you cannot miss this ugly object as it is the highest point on the landscape.
The towering structure, which seems to be of a permanent design, protrudes high above the trees on one of the highest points of Bishop Hill and has been constructed without local consultation.
Does it have Planning? Has a warrant been issued? There is no record online at Perth & Kinross Planning Department, who stated when contacted that they did not have a Planning Record and would look into the matter.
It's a disgrace that this structure has just been thrown up without consultation, causing a blot on the idyllic and beautiful landscape; it looks worse than a wind turbine.
Wind turbines/farms have been fiercely fought off in the past to avoid such things becoming a dominant feature in Kinross-shire, affecting the landscape and wildlife, yet this seems to have surpassed every one.
This towering ugly structure should be removed immediately and an inquiry held to why it was allowed to be constructed in the first place in such a beautiful habitat.
In order to find out how the structure came to be built, the Newsletter has delved into the planning database on the Perth & Kinross Council website where all the relevant documentation relating to the application can be found. Click here to view the relevant page.
As it turns out, the normal planning process does not apply to this structure as it was an application by the Crown, erected by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Meteorological Office. Such applications do not actually need planning permission - there is simply a requirement for the MOD to send the local Council a notification of their intention to build. The process then followed is similar to that used for a normal planning application, but without reference to a development control committee.
So what is the structure? In fact, the tower is a "rain radar" which will monitor rainfall, in order to collect data which should aid the forecasting of rainfall events and also model flood risks within the Perth & Kinross catchment area and beyond. The radar is part of a network of 16 stations set up across the UK. Properly speaking it is sited on Munduff Hill, with the adjoining plateau of Bishop Hill providing ideal visibility for the radar equipment within the white geodesic dome which sits atop the green steel tower.
Although the radar is unmanned, access to the tower by 4-wheel drive vehicles is also a necessity, and so a suitable track to the tower through the woods to the rear of the radar is in the process of being constructed. Expectations are that the site will need to be visited for repairs and maintenance approximately four times a year. Staff will not stay on-site overnight, as there are no toilets or water supply. A lighting system exists for use during such visits, which is focussed downwards to minimise any impact on the surrounding hilltop.
It is also important for the smooth operation of the radar that the surrounding trees do not grow up to the height of the dome, and so a management plan has been put in place to keep the treetops suitably well pruned.
As the Met Office does have an obligation and a commitment to carry out any new development in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner, a report on the ecological impact of the site was prepared by E3 Ecology Ltd of Wark in Northumberland. They concluded that the site was of a low ecological value, and that no adverse effects were to be expected on the area's plant and animal life.
The application for the radar was first put forward in May 2006. Portmoak Community Council raised an objection, considering the tower to be detrimental to the landscape and contrary to the policy which does not permit obtrusions on the crests of hills around Kinross-shire. The official reply was that the radar would not cause a significant adverse impact on the hilltop, and that whilst the site would not be invisible from all locations, it would be well screened due to being positioned within the existing tree plantation.
In any case, whether or not you believe that these towers are a blight on the countryside there is also some good news in that the radar will not work properly in the vicinity of windfarms, which cause too much interference. At least the hills around Loch Leven will be spared from that particular form of encroachment for the foreseeable future.