Heated debate on a £53million Ross-shire wind farm is set to rage long after the deadline for representations on the scheme elapses with plans for a fresh poll of those most directly affected.
The new twist in the saga surrounding the proposed 22-turbine Lochluichart scheme emerged in the wake of a massive response to a Ross-shire Journal online poll which attracted votes and comments from across the globe. Debate on the issue also raged at a local meeting this week as it was decided to hold a fresh poll of local people.
Opinion is starkly divided with claims ranging from strong opposition to “exploitation” of the local community to impassioned pleas in favour on environmental and economic grounds.
While the online poll does not claim to be scientific or foolproof, the response reveals the sheer strength of feeling.
Infinergy Ltd, part of the joint venture behind the plan, meanwhile released statistics of its own in the wake of its two-day exhibition in Garve last week showing 66 per cent of people expressing support for the plans.
Meanwhile at a stormy public meeting, Garve and District Community Council agreed to ask local people once again their views on a scheme which, it is claimed, could provide enough electricity for 37,000 houses and provide £29million worth of work.
Secretary Donald Northwood said the “very well-attended” AGM had “got fairly heated” but had concluded a fresh poll on the amended scheme was appropriate. A previous poll found the local community split down the middle.
But even though community councillors are set to go to great lengths to ensure everyone has a say ““ manually checking the electoral roll ““ Mr Northwood admitted some concern remain that absentee landlords, who provide local employment, will be denied a say as they don’t appear on the roll.
Admitting the issue was now so heated that “whatever we do we are liable to get a kicking”, he said the community council aims to be as democratic and transparent as possible in gauging local feeling.
He said, “Let’s be honest, there are people in the community who stand to gain great benefit from the wind farm and others who feel they will get nothing out of it and that all the power generated is going south anyway.”
The poll will be adjudicated independently with results being passed to Highland Council, which in turn is being consulted by the Scottish Executive, which has the final say.
Of response to the Ross-shire Journal poll, Mr Northwood said, “It’s brilliant. It shows the passion people feel on both sides.”
The Executive has set itself stringent renewable energy targets but currently faces determining a slew of wind farm applications.
Backing the proposals via the Journal web poll, Les Taylor Construction managing director Donald MacPherson pointed to the employment opportunities presented by renewables and suggested the wind farm could even become a tourist attraction.
Achnasheen-based studio owners Susan and Stephen Plowman warned tourists would “stop coming to Wester Ross if this wind farm goes ahead”, adding, “Why should our lives be ruined to benefit one “˜fat cat’ from down south?”
Mark Boulton of the International Centre for Conservation Education asked, “How can we possibly hope to meet carbon commitments if every new move to harness renewables is met by nimbys?” Others warned giant offshore wind farms would eventually render their onshore counterparts “redundant”.
Alastair Robertson of the Stop the Lochluichart Wind Farm campaign said, “So far the result is very encourging, if unscientific. Far more important are the comments that have been left on the website. Infinergy managing director Charles Sandham has tried to dismiss opposition to his development as an “˜endless dirge of ill-sourced, emotional commentary’.
“Nothing, as the comments on the website demonstrate, could be further from the truth. The developer should not so lightly dismiss genuinely held opinion.
“The Ross-shire Journal has to be congratulated for opening up the debate.”
He also welcomed the Community Council’s decision to hold another poll. He said, “The council still has to decide who will be eligible to vote – those on the Electoral Roll entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections, or those who pay council tax.
“Given the impact this wind farm will have it makes sense to consult as widely as possible and anyone in the community council area who contributes to the economy of the Highlands should be entitled to vote.”
A spokesman for Infinergy also backed the local poll. He said, “Let’s let the local people have their say.” He said the consortium had been encouraged by the response of local people attending the exhibition.
By Hector MacKenzie
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