Community representatives trying to gauge local feeling over a revised £53million Ross wind farm proposal fear they could end up being sued in the latest twist to an unfolding saga being watched around the world.
Garve and District Community Council had earlier announced plans to stage a second ballot of local people after Anglo-Dutch consortium LZN downscaled its original plans to a 22-turbine scheme on Lochluichart Estate.
As the would-be developer held talks in Inverness this week with local companies keen to secure lucrative construction work should the Scottish Executive give the scheme the go-ahead, it this week emerged the community council had put its ballot plans on hold pending legal advice.
A ballot on the first 43-turbine scheme saw the community split down the middle. Campaigners for and opponents to the scheme have been watching local developments closely, keen to win the support of the people who will be most directly affected.
A Ross-shire Journal poll attracted over 3,000 votes with the “˜Yes’ campaign winning by a hair’s breadth. While that online poll did not claim to be scientific, the global response revealed the strength of feeling on all sides of the argument.
With community divisions hardening on both sides of the argument, council chairman Donald Northwood this week confirmed plans for another poll had been put on ice. The council feels “between a rock and a hard place” over the issue because of disputes about who will be balloted. There are two versions of the Electoral Roll and the one readily available to the council is an edited version which allows people who don’t want to be contacted by outside organisations to opt out.
Some of those individuals, however, are understood to have complained about NOT being contacted for the original poll.
It is also understood that a number of absent landlords in the area have also voiced disquiet about the prospect of not being eligible to vote in what would certainly be a close-run poll.
While Mr Northwood was not able to comment on speculation, he said there was now clearly a need for clarity on the legalities surrounding any poll.
The Ross-shire Journal understands some community councillors fear being liable to legal action.
A spokesman for Infinergy, part of the LZN consortium, said yesterday the company was keen to see a local ballot on what are “substantially changed” plans as it feels it would reveal a true picture of how people feel. He said, “It would seem ridiculous to stand in the way of a local ballot.”
Electoral Registration Officer Douglas Gillespie yesterday confirmed regulations on how the register can be used had been tightened with people able to tick a box indicating they do not wish to be contacted ““ in many cases in an attempt to stamp out junk mail. The way community councils can use the register is also regulated fairly strictly, for example to ascertain whether people are eligible for office or for elections to the body.
“It would make sense for a community council to be clear whether it is empowered to do something or not,” he said.
By Hector MacKenzie
19 January 2007
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