Highland Councillors are to be asked to overturn a decision they made last week to give the go-ahead to a wind farm development in Sutherland.
Members of the council’s core planning, development, Europe and tourism committee approved two out of three planning applications for wind farms in the Rosehall area of Sutherland after special hearings in Lairg last Friday.
The approval was given despite the three Sutherland councillors on the committee voting against all three developments and community councils in the area making it clear they were not in favour.
It has since been claimed that Labour councillors deliberately pushed the applications through, against the council’s own energy strategy, because employment would be created if the manufacture of wind turbines was to take place at Invergordon.
But earlier this week it emerged that moves are afoot to overturn the go-ahead given to Airtricity Developments to site 23 turbines at Invercassley.
Approval was also given to a 19turbine development by E.ON UK Renewables at Glen Rossall, only 2.3 kilometres north-east of Rosehall and in an area where the council’s own renewable energy strategy presumes against major wind farm developments.
An application for a 23-turbine development by SSE Generation Ltd at Achany Estate was turned down. To add to the council’s difficulties, it appears likely that the rejection will be the subject of a judicial review.
It emerged on Monday that Highland Council convener Alison Magee, who represents the Central Sutherland ward, has tabled an amendment asking that the planning permission given to the Invercassley wind farm be rescinded.
She cites as grounds for her amendment that planning officials recommended the Invercassley development be turned down, that the three community councils in the immediate area objected to the development, and that it was likely to have an adverse impact on a National Scenic Area.
Eight councillors are required to sign the amendment before it can be considered, and it is understood all six Sutherland councillors have done so, along with Councillors John Green (Caithness North East) and Bill Smith (Provost of Inverness). The issue is set to be discussed at a meeting of the full Highland Council in Inverness on Thursday, October 26.
Anti wind farm campaigners, who last week were despondent over the outcome of the Lairg meeting, are now delighted at the turn of events.
Stephen Mouat of Durcha said campaigners would turn out in force for the full council meeting.
He told The Northern Times this week: “I don’t think this is over, not by a long shot. I really think the Highland Council has to retract its position. Their whole credibility from a planning aspect is under question.”
Mr Mouat revealed campaigners had been “absolutely shattered” at the councillors’ decision to permit two out of the three wind farm proposals.
“The issue now is the fact that they tore up their own rule book. They overturned not only their own policy but the recommendation of the director of planning,” he said.
“The Sutherland councillors present supported the feelings of the community, but were outvoted by councillors who do not represent the people of Sutherland.
“We think this is undemocratic and that the issue is now not about wind farms but about the inconsistent application of a policy and the effect of that on fragile areas in the Highlands. All we ask is for consistency and transparency.”
The Invercassley development was pushed through at the Lairg meeting largely by Inverness councillors.
Councillor Clive Goodman, who represents the Milton ward, proposed approval and found a seconder in Councillor Jimmy Gray (Crown) who chairs the Inverness Area Planning Committee. Councillors went on to vote 12-6 in favour.
Lochcarron councillor Ewen Mackinnon proposed that the Rosehall wind farm be given planning permission, with Councillor Gray once again the seconder.
.The project manager of Scottish and Southern Energy’s proposed wind farm development at Achany – which was turned down – has warned councillors that “all available channels would be pursued in order to obtain a positive outcome”.
Addressing last Friday’s meeting at Lairg, Simon Heyes said there were no compelling reasons for planning officials to recommend that the Achany development be turned down.
“The complete absence of any stated outstanding concerns through the development process has denied us any opportunity to engage with the officials to address the proposed reasons for refusal.”
He warned: “Finally, as a matter of fairness, we would like to let you know that if you take the decision on the basis of your officers’ recommendation, we will be considering a judicial review to the Court of Session to quash the grant of permission to Rosehall and appeal the refusal of our application.
“In both cases we would be relying on your inconsistent approach and lack of factual foundation for the recommendation for refusal.”
By Caroline McMorran
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