Furious opponents of plans to double the size of electricity pylons through the Cairngorms National Park yesterday branded the Scottish Executive’s latest consultation exercise undemocratic.
Park residents hoping to contribute to a preliminary local debate ahead of a full public inquiry into Scottish and Southern Energy’s proposals for the Beauly-Denny power line will have to travel at least 70 miles to a 2pm weekday meeting – in Perth.
Senior councillors including the Highland planning chairman have joined angry residents in condemning the choice of venue and timing of the event.
The executive defended it, saying it had tried to identify a venue “suitable for all parties”.
Its special inquiry reporters unit has announced plans for four such meetings next month along the route of the power line.
But the debate concerning SSE’s plans for pylons through the park and the Perth and Kinross Council area will be at Perth Concert Hall.
Badenoch councillor Gregor Rimell, a Highland Council representative on the Cairngorms Park board, said: “This is a stupid decision and undemocratic. It’s 70 miles, for example, from Newtonmore to Perth. It’s at two o’clock in the afternoon, so attendance would be minimal.
“The inquiry is making it difficult for this area to have its voice heard. Only people with the means, health and free time could attend Perth, so it would be a non representative group.”
He continued: “The arrangement doesn’t put the inquiry in a good light because people will have the suspicion that the inquiry doesn’t really want to listen to them.”
Mr Rimell said he had written to the chief reporter in charge of the team organising the wider public inquiry, but had been pre-warned by planning bosses at both the park and the council that the organisers were unlikely to change the venue because 17,000 letters of invitation had already been sent out.
Highland planning chairman and deputy park planning chief Sandy Park agreed, saying: “It doesn’t seem to be very sensible. You’d have thought Aviemore, even Inverness, would have been more central than having to travel to Perth. The most controversial stretches of the line are coming through the park, along with the Cannich areas.”
Roy Tylden-Wright of Cairngorms Revolt Against Pylons said: “It’s the same old story. The agencies involved, who are getting paid both their wages and their mileage really don’t care about these day-time gatherings at whatever distance, whereas working people have a real problem and lose money every time we have to attend.
“It is clumsy and unsympathetic. Ultimately, this kind of process is undemocratic because the effect is that the access is given over to those who can afford it. It means the number of people able to make representation will be diminished, there is no question about that.”
A spokeswoman for the park said the park authority had not been involved in organising the meeting but would have a representative at the Perth gathering.
A spokesman for the executive said: “We have tried as far as possible given the constraints of holding such large meetings, to identify venues that are suitable and practicable for all parties.”
He added that the 2pm start would “allow parties to travel to and from these meetings in social hours.”
The first of the series of pre inquiry meetings, addressing the scope and structure of the inquiry, will be in the Aviemore Centre on October 3. The Drumossie Hotel in Inverness will host a debate on October 12 covering the stretch of line from Beauly to the park boundary and Stirling will have its own meeting on October 31.
By Iain Ramage
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