The Uk Government could face a multimillion-pound fine if Scottish ministers allow plans for a massive windfarm on the Western Isles to go ahead, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warned yesterday.
It believes the Lewis Wind Power application for 181 turbines was made without a proper environmental impact assessment.
That, it says, would contravene the European Habitats Directive.
Western Isles councillors voted 18-8 in favour of the £512million windfarm development on Thursday.
But local RSPB spokesman Martin Scott said: “From what we have seen in the council’s report, they haven’t even considered any of the European law or European designations. The whole process that the council seems to have followed does appear to be flawed.
“I’d like to think that the Scottish Executive would pick up on it. I suspect that the European Union aren’t going to be particularly pleased that somebody has just tried to consent a large-scale industrial development on prime wildlife sites in breach of the Habitats Directive. We’ve always said it would likely end up in Brussels. It’s heading there at a rapid pace now.”
The plan now has to be considered by the Scottish Executive.
Enterprise Minister Nicol Stephen said yesterday: “I can’t comment on the detail of the application but I can guarantee that all of these issues will be very thoroughly assessed.
“There are important competing interests to weigh up and consider, and that’s the appropriate way to proceed with a major application of this kind.
“It’s important on a significant issue like this that the advice from officials is carefully evaluated and that the decision that is announced by ministers is agreed.”
He added that a public local inquiry into the 460ft turbines proposed for the Stornoway Trust, Barvas and Galson estates was possible “to assess all aspects of the application in an open and independent way”.
LWP is an Amec/British Energy joint venture. It says the 651-megawatt windfarm would create 426 construction jobs and contribute £1.85million a year to four local trust funds.
The vice-convener of Western Isles Council, Angus Graham, conceded there would be a “visual impact” but said there was a balance to be achieved. People wanted work and job opportunities to entice youngsters to return home.
“For years we have known about depopulation but could do nothing about it,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity.
“You cannot have a language and culture without people.”
LWP director David Hodkinson said: “The RSPB is well versed in the application of European law to major infrastructure developments, including the Thames estuary offshore project, which they welcomed a few months ago as the UK’s first major windfarm to have been consented in a European special protection area.
“They are also advising on the Viking windfarm development in Shetland, which, we suggest, they know will need to be considered as a special protection area before the windfarm can be consented because of its significant bird interests.
“So we suggest they know that the Lewis windfarm could only go ahead in compliance with European law. It simply would not be consented otherwise.
“To suggest anything different would appear to be yet another example of the RSPB relying on the selective use of the facts to challenge our development. In our opinion, this is a clear sign that the RSPB’s campaign against the Lewis windfarm has run out of scientific arguments.”
Catriona Campbell, chairwoman of Moorlands Without Turbines – the group that has led the objections – said: “I was very disappointed at the quality of argument of the councillors who were in support. They didn’t seem all that knowledgeable.
“None of them put forward any evidence that the council having all these millions of pounds would actually help fill the schools.”
Another objector, Justin Busbridge, highlighted what he saw as a lack of democracy after a succession of opinion polls rejected the project. “All of them have come out, at best, with a 50-50 divide,” he said. “But the majority – thousands and thousands of people – are opposed to this, particularly where the turbines would be sited.”
By Iain Ramage
17 February 2007
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