Apathy has clouded one of the most contentious planning decisions in recent Highland history – with only half of the councillors eligible to vote showing any interest.
Just 18 out of 36 with the privilege of a mandate have registered an intention to join a site visit to Edinbane on Skye this morning ahead of a hearing in Portree to decide whether or not Amec’s proposed windfarm plan should, after 15 years of debate, be approved.
The meeting could affect the island’s skyline for the next quarter of a century. In the past few years, acrimony surrounding the issue has seen the local community divided, with the property of prominent characters allegedly vandalised and reports of hate mail and threatening phone calls.
In all, 36 councillors could vote on the planning application. A council spokesman revealed yesterday that only 18 were likely to attend – nine of whom plan to retire in May with severance payments of up to £20,000.
The windfarm has been a 15-year dream of Major Ruaraidh Hilleary, 81, who inherited the Edinbane estate.
A 27-turbine planning application submitted five years ago was sent back to planners in 2005 on the advice of the Scottish Executive amid concern over EU rules to protect eagles.
The major will do battle again this afternoon with his arch opponent, 60-year-old John Hodgson, the local Tory candidate and chairman of the Skye Windfarm Action Group, over the pros and cons of a proposition which prompted 655 letters of objection and 126 in favour. Ironically, stormy weather forced the hearing to be postponed last October.
Controversially, the council has inserted a rare disclaimer into planning documents, to distance the authority from responsibility for any subsequent landslip or similar disaster “during construction, operation or decommissioning of the development”.
Objectors to the plan have suggested that such a catastrophe is a very real possibility. Given planning approval, legal action seems certain to follow based on the belief of opponents, including Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, that such a development would breach EU environment law. Similar moves involving fragile habitats have cost governments of several fellow member states multimillion-pound fines.
While Scottish Natural Heritage was recently satisfied by recent fresh data from Amec, RSPB Scotland has maintained its objection. Opponents also argue that Edinbane is not an area designated as “preferred for development” within the council’s own renewable energy planning guidelines.
Local Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro, who supports the plan, believed the vote was a foregone conclusion in favour of the developers, but he was disappointed with councillors.
He said: “Most of the councillors have already debated this issue and come to a conclusion and made their views publicly known to the extent of giving this development previous approval, many of them saying ‘we’re going over the same ground again, I’m not going to bother’.
“That is very disappointing if that is the case.
“I would have thought that a full council out there tomorrow would have demonstrated to the local community that they have the backing of the full council in promoting this development.”
9 March 2007
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