August 13, 2008

Firm Given Green Light on Turbines ; Airport to Upgrade Air Traffic Radar

By Dave Black

ALEADING drugs company has been given the green light to erect two giant wind turbines aimed at slashing energy costs and safeguarding employment at its 400-job Northumberland factory.

Following a public inquiry, a Government planning inspector has approved the bid by Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) to erect the 130m- high windmills at its Cramlington plant.

The turbines will allow the company to generate its own renewable power and ensure jobs are safeguarded through increased efficiency.

However, inspector Graham Self has ruled that they cannot go up until Newcastle Airport has successfully completed an upgrade to its air traffic control radar systems, aimed at tackling potential interference caused by the two turbines.

The upgrade - which is still being developed and trialled - involves installing new software to create an area on the radar system which 'blacks out' unwanted images generated by the turbines.

Yesterday airport officials stressed that the measures will only be effective on a limited basis, and will not provide a catch-all solution to the scores of potential wind farm schemes it is currently facing across the region.

Planning permission for the two MSD turbines - along with two others proposed for another Cramlington drugs firm Aesica Pharmaceuticals - was refused by Blyth Valley Borough Council last year because of objections by Newcastle Airport.

It was claimed the four windmills could interfere with radar and threaten aircraft safety.

MSD appealed the decision and a local inquiry held in Blyth last month was told the airport's objection would be withdrawn subject to the scheme awaiting the radar upgrades. In his report, Mr Self says: "The airport operator is evidently confident that upgraded software can be installed which will prevent any clutter from the turbine blades painting on the radar screens, or adversely affecting the safe operation of the airport."

He says permission should be given for the two turbines subject to the successful radar upgrade scheme being submitted to the council and given safety approval by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Yesterday airport planning and corporate affairs manager Graeme Mason said: "This modification to the radar system is something we have been looking at to see whether it is possible, and on how many occasions we can do it. The process is not yet finished, but we feel the MSD site is one we can accept.

"We hope that our part of this process will be completed by the end of the year, and should not delay MSD putting up their turbines. We are looking at how this mitigation can be used elsewhere, but it will only be applicable on a limited basis. It doesn't provide a solution for the 160 or so wind farm schemes which have crossed our books."


MERCK Sharp and Dohme's 400-job Cramlington facility is the international company's largest supplier of tablets, and includes leading edge manufacturing technologies and an automated packaging plant.

Last night MSD said it was 'very pleased' with the inspector's decision. A spokeswoman said: "The installation of two wind turbines is expected to satisfy half of the site's electricity requirements and will bring significant environmental and cost benefits.

"We have worked closely with Newcastle Airport on this application.

"There are a number of technical solutions which would ensure continuity and safety of all air traffic control procedures, and these will be fully tested prior to implementation."

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