‘Sensitive and robust’ approach to concerns over St Andrews University windfarm plan

Roddy Yarr, St Andrews University
Roddy Yarr, St Andrews University

Claims by some residents in Boarhills that St Andrews University has failed to come up with answers to their concerns over its plans for a windfarm in the area have been strongly refuted.

Scotland’s oldest university has reacted angrily to some of the comments by villagers who accused officials of conducting insufficient public engagement over its proposals and branded its public relations as ”dreadful.”

Speaking exclusively to the Citizen: the university’s environment and energy manager, Roddy Yarr, said he took exception to the remarks of some of the villagers who attended the public exhibition focusing on the windfarm plans for the site at Kenly Farm.

He said yesterday (Thursday): ‘‘We take our community engagement responsibilities very seriously and have done a huge amount of work over the last three years to solicit opinion, feedback and involvement from members of local communities in Boarhills, Dunino and Kingsbarns.

“Some people may wish to criticise our proposals or object to them, but they cannot call into question our desire or track record in engaging with and consulting community representatives. We stand by everything we have done to encourage the community to get involved or give opinion on our plans.”

Mr Yarr said that, as a representative of the university, he had sought to talk with and answer the questions raised by those with an interest in the proposed development.

He continued: ”The university has put community discussion and engagement at the core of its development proposals right from the start in December 2007 to the present. The reality of this is that, over that sort of time period, it is challenging to engage with everyone all of the time.

“However, despite this, it is my view that I and colleagues have made reasonable efforts to update the community on progress being made and provide ongoing information that is relevant and informative.

‘‘One of the ways that we have tried to achieve ongoing communication links with residents is through the respective community councils. Colleagues and I have visited community council meetings and met with representatives.”

He pointed out that, since August of 2009, four members of the local community had regularly attended the university’s project board that has overseen the development of the proposal.

Mr Yarr added: ”This direct involvement by those nominated to attend by their own communities is a good way to keep lines of communication open in as many ways as practically possible. We have issued several update leaflets and notifications to households in the area. When asked, I have visited local residents and stood in front of packed village halls to answer questions raised.

“When personally approached I have provided answers to questions and, if I have not known the answer, I have gone away and then provided the information requested.”

He made it clear that the public exhibition included a comprehensive range of images, explanatory text taken directly from the Environmental Statement that accompanies the application and that several people had already complimented him on the clarity and detail provided at the displays at Boarhills and at Kingsbarns.

“I feel confident in defending what I consider to be a robust and sensitive approach to public relations and communication and I would continue to encourage people to discuss any queries on the proposal with me directly,” he concluded.”

The university want to develop a six-turbine, 12.3 megawatt facility on land it owns at Kenly Farm and has based its proposals around a suitable form of financial benefit being made available to local communities.

Recent discussions with community representatives have centred around the formation of a set of community trusts to manage any funds should planning permission to be granted.