A sparsely populated Ross-shire community bitterly divided over a multi-million pound wind farm scheme today (Friday) has its say in a vote being watched with keen interest across the globe.
Amidst threats of legal action and claims of intimidation, the poll by Garve and District Community Council seeks to assess local feeling on a revised £53million scheme that would see 22 wind turbines 125 metres high erected on land owned by Lochluichart Estate.
Attempts to gauge local opinion for a second time ““ an initial poll on a larger 43-turbine scheme split the community in two ““ have been bogged down in wrangles about who should be eligible to vote and generated a terse solicitor’s letter from another local estate opposed to the scheme.
The significance of the poll ““ which will give people owning second homes, and holiday home owners, the right to a vote ““ has been intensified coming a week or so ahead of an expected determination by Highland Council of its position on the scheme.
The final say rests with the Scottish Executive, currently clogged up by scores of wind farm applications across the country. The Executive has set ambitious targets for boosting energy generated by renewables to 40 per cent by 2020. Garve and Achnasheen Village Halls are the designated polling stations for today’s vote being run from 2pm to 7pm. The community council has urged interest groups to stay away amidst concerns that locals will feel intimidated.
A Ross-shire Journal online poll generated over 3,400 votes from around the world ““ a record response ““ plus hundreds of strongly worded arguments for and against the scheme. The “˜Yes’ vote won by a handful of votes although there was evidence of tit-for-tat voting. In today’s poll, fewer than 300 people are expected to have a say ““ but both sides of the argument are known to hold great store in the outcome. While eagerly watched, the fresh poll remains controversial.
Community council secretary Donald Northwood said, “The whole community is so divided we decided there should be another vote. This seems to be the fairest way of doing it. We have done everything in our power that was reasonable and practicable to let people have their say. This is the best way we could see forward.”
Opponents to the scheme say another local poll is pointless ahead of papers available to Highland Councillors being made public, possibly as early as next week. Sue Hopkinson said, “Surely the Lochluichart community is entitled to the fullest possible information before they vote on such an important issue?”
Another local opponent, Harry Goudie, said questionmarks remain over who is entitled to vote. He added, “It’s terrible what has been happening. I really don’t know how the poll will go.”
A spokesman for Infinergy, part of the Anglo-Dutch consortium behind the scheme, said, “We have always felt the local community should have the opportunity to have its say.”
Proprietors of the Strathbran Estate, George and Mark Seligman, acting through solicitors, questioned the community council poll on the grounds that basing it on the electoral roll would exclude a significant number of people with a “substantial interest” in the local area.
The letter argued absentee landlords not on the roll, and second home owners, should not be denied a say. It said Strathbran Estate would experience “significant adverse effects” in terms of amenity if the scheme goes ahead. It argued that several estates in the area between them pump around £850,000 into the local community and should not be denied a say. It added, “The duties of a community council are to represent everyone in their area, not just those who are permanently resident/on the electoral roll.”
By Hector MacKenzie
9 March 2007
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