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SSE accused of inquiry "˜waste'

The energy firm behind a proposed 136-mile powerline between the Highlands and Central Scotland has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money by inundating an inquiry into the controversial plans with huge amounts of unnecessary paperwork.
Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has submitted more than 12,000 pages of documents relating to the 400,000-volt transmission line from Beauly in the Highlands to Denny in Stirlingshire.
Highland Council planning officials claim the energy company is complicating the inquiry with a vast amount of evidence.
They fear it could become the longest and one of the most expensive public inquiries in Scottish planning history ““ topping out at £7m.
Sandy Park, chairman of Highland’s planning committee, said: “The cost and time the public inquiry will take are ludicrous.
“They are blitzing us with paper and the documentation submitted is longer than the Bible and War and Peace put together.”
Around 18,000 individuals and groups, including rugby star Kenny Logan who owns land in the path of the proposed line, have objected to the plans for 600 pylons up to 213ft high.
They now claim they are concerned about extensions to the timetable for the public inquiry which will open in Perth on February 6. It’s not scheduled to end until December 20.
Only this month, SSE announced plans to put the line taking power from windfarms in the Western Isles underground from Ullapool to Beauly – even though this had previously been ruled out.
Objectors hoped some of the route from Beauly to Denny could be placed underground but this was ruled out by SSE.
Planning officials said they didn’t object to the principle of the plans but are concerned about the timetable for the inquiry – which includes eight and a half weeks to discuss the strategy alone.
John Rennilson, Highland’s planning director, said: “SSE seems to have unlimited resources and while councils have a fair amount of money this inquiry will put a big hole in our budget and our time. As for members of the public and pressure groups ““ what can they possibly make of this level of material?
“Surely there must be a better way of doing this, a quicker way and cheaper way?”
Mr Park, chairman of Highland’s planning committee, added: “The need for the line upgrade is not in question. But SSE is going to take eight and a half weeks just talking about strategy or the reason for the upgrade, which nearly everyone supports, and they expect to call 29 witnesses.
“There is a suspicion they are doing this just to grind people down, to get them to accept whatever SSE wants.”
A spokeswoman for Scottish and Southern Energy said: “It’s the reporters’ unit at the Scottish Executive which decides how long each section of the inquiry will take.
“It has to be as transparent as possible and the complexity of the subject is reflected in the volume of information required to be prepared.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive added: “The timetable was extended in-line with what was advised by participating parties –how long the evidence and witnesses would take and their request not to convene the inquiry over the summer.”

By David Ross and Carolyn Churchill