Carmichael takes a flying leap at Moray planning policy

Alistair Carmichael MP -
Alistair Carmichael – MP critical of Moray’s new policy on use of drones in rural areas

MORAY COUNCIL PLANS to use drones in place of site visits by members of the planning and regulatory services committee are being criticised by a Liberal Democrat MP.

Moray is one of two UK local authorities who have decided to take to the air in an attempt to cut costs and better survey the wider environment around sites under planning application consideration – in particular those for wind turbines in remote, difficult to access areas.

While it has become only a recent development in Moray, where there is agreement to hire drones for surveys on selected sites, Epping Forrest District Council have gone a step further by purchasing two of the ‘flying cameras’ at a total cost of £5000.

Use of drones is not completely new, however, to Moray – the Council has hired three drones in the past for specific projects ahead their decision in February for their use on windfarm application sites.

Now Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs, has hit out at the plan, insisting that the was no need for the use of drones and they posed a privacy issue for local residents.

The MP said: “Local people will want to know what the use of drones by Moray Council is – and what is done with the film that is captured. It seems quite incredible that a council would proceed with this sort of intrusion without a comprehensive policy in place.

“Councils should not be spending tax payers money on owning or renting drones, there is no real need for them – it is busy-body local government at its worst.”

The use of drones by Moray Council did not receive universal approval within the ruling administration when the idea was put planning committee members in February.

Heldon & Laich Councillor and the chairman of the planning and regulatory services committee, Chris Tuke, spoke against the idea but was ultimately overruled as eight members of the committee backed the idea.

A strong supporter of the idea is Councillor Tuke’s predecessor as planning chair, Fochabers/Lhanbryde councillor Douglas Ross, who recalled a typical site at Cabrach that caused difficulties for members.

He said: “We had a fruitless site visit to Cabrach last year for an extension to a wind farm – we had to traverse most of Moray to view it from different angles.

“We never got a great view of the hill in question and a drone would have solved a lot of the problems there, so using drones can be beneficial and can save time and money. But we should take a common sense approach in looking at individual cases.”

A Moray Council spokesman moved to allay fears that their use of drones would pose a threat to the privacy of residents in areas where they are put to use. Pointing out that they would mainly be used in rural areas, the spokesman said: “If it is essential to use a drone in a residential area for planning purposes all residents would be notified in advance.

“However, this is an unlikely scenario as the main anticipated deployment is windfarm applications where access is difficult.”