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Conservationists react with anger to Cairngorms windfarm proposals


Iain Ramage

Leading conservationists last night condemned proposals for a commercial windfarm on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park.

Energy firm npower has lodged a planning application with Highland Council to erect two 165ft wind-measuring masts on the Balavil Estate by Kingussie.

There was an angry response as news of the proposal reached the people of Badenoch and Strathspey, but the estate’s owner said the rewards to landowners would be “huge”.

Outdoor enthusiast, author and TV personality Cameron McNeish, who lives locally, said he was “very disturbed” by what he called a trend by energy firms to close in on the national park. And he warned that giant turbines would deter visitors.

Mr McNeish, Ramblers’ Association Scotland president, added: “This is no place for windfarms, particularly at a time when there is a great debate about the very effectiveness of the technology.”

Dick Balharry, chairman of the John Muir Trust conservation organisation and a local resident, said: “I would be very disappointed to see windfarming on the ridges of the Monadhliaths.”

The neighbouring Dunachton and Alvie estates would also cash in, according to Balavil sporting estate owner Alan MacPherson-Fletcher. Asked how much a windfarm might mean financially for the estates, he said: “A huge amount. Obviously, the income from these things is fairly substantial.”

Answering critics of the proposal, Mr MacPherson-Fletcher, who is also a property consultant with agents Strutt and Parker, said: “It’s the old nimby approach, I suppose. We would all like to do our bit for green energy so long as it doesn’t come anywhere near us.”

He attributed a poor grouse season to global warming, suggesting a windfarm would help counter the crisis, and said the site was within Highland Council’s “preferred-area status” for development.

The laird added: “If everybody says ‘that’s fine but can we have it elsewhere?’ then nothing will get done and, in another 50 years, I think we could be in deeper trouble than losing a few tourists who turn up and say ‘I don’t like your windmills’.”

John Forbes-Leith at Dunachton said: “Generally, I am in favour of windfarms. I’m not convinced they’re detrimental to tourism. I think people quite like the idea of being green.”

Such comments have infuriated Philip Southcott, who owns the nearby Duke of Gordon Hotel.

He said: “This would be a disaster for Kingussie, the Spey valley and the national park. A windfarm would be a huge distraction. An area of absolutely magnificent beauty would be scarred.”

Speaking about the prospects of turbines so close to the park, a spokeswoman for the park authority said: “We’ll have to wait and see if we receive a planning application and it will be assessed on its merits. The national park is opposed to large-scale commercial windfarms in or close to the park boundary, but would be supportive of community-based renewable energy projects.”

Local nationalist MSP Fergus Ewing said: “There should not be any possibility of wind turbines in these areas. The executive refused, when I met the minister, to implement a policy banning turbines in such areas of huge scenic value and so frequented by visitors.

“However, the Labour-Liberal executive seem so besotted and bewitched by wind turbines that their policy seems to be, in the words of the song, Any place, any time, anywhere.”

Confirming plans for masts north-west of Meall A’Chocaire, an npower renewables spokesman said: “If the planning application is successful we are hoping to assess the wind speed to see if the area is suitable for windfarm development.

“As a company, npower renewables measures wind speeds at many areas across the UK. Very often, nothing more comes of it.”