The leading protagonists in the long-running Edinbane debate will this afternoon go head-to-head for the first time since a 2002 planning hearing in Portree which decided in favour of the developers.
Landowner Major Ruaraidh Hilleary would consider the realisation of his dream to be a very personal victory, while leading objector John Hodgson is adamant that the arrival of giant turbines in an unspoilt wilderness would decimate the landscape, its lifeline tourism industry and the human rights of locals.
Major Hilleary told the Press and Journal: “In 1938, my grandfather’s report for the Government, outlined the potential for water power. Hydro-electric schemes started and the outcry against them was vociferous.
“We are witnessing a similar outcry against wind power today, but the important difference now is that there are huge financial benefits for fragile communities.”
Mr Hodgson, chairman of the Skye Windfarm Action Group (Swag), said: “Planning approval would not only be disastrous news for residents of this village, but also for council taxpayers in Highland.
“The director of planning’s recommendation for approval will place him on a collision course with the might of Europe that could result in a hefty fine, the cost of which will be borne by Highland residents.”
The major believes global warming is today’s greatest threat to the planet. Pointing to Government targets for renewable energy, he said Skye has “lots of wind” and claims to have the majority of residents’ support.
“Throughout this process local opinion was wholly onside with planning permission for 27 turbines achieved in November 2002,” he said.
“That could have resulted in some £300,000 per annum for a fragile local economy. Since then we have been thwarted by recent arrivals in Skye, who care nothing for the views of the indigenous crofting population and who have used every means at their disposal to frustrate our plans, with questionable advisers.”
Major Hilleary has previously conceded in an interview with the P &J that he is not a native of Skye himself.
He accuses Swag of dreaming up “ever more fanciful objections” which required the need for further scientific data to allow his dream to edge a step closer and that, as a result, Amec’s slimmed down 18-turbine plan would mean a proportionate reduction in financial benefits.
Mr Hodgson, on the other hand, quotes estate agents predicting “a disastrous effect on the local economy should this windfarm be constructed”.
He added: “Amec has failed to assess tourism, which is the backbone of the village’s economy. This windfarm would be grossly visually intrusive, would likely cause noise, shadow flicker, possible flooding, peat-slide and economic deprivation.”
Mr Hodgson warns that the experiences of other windfarms have proved there will be no long-term job creation and few locals would benefit financially to compensate for “an enormous loss of amenity”.
Major Hilleary swears that neither tourism nor wildlife would be threatened. “There is no evidence to support this and, indeed, our plans could be a tourist attraction with the wonderful panorama from the top of Beinn Chearcal,” he said, adding: “I respect genuine concerns about the impact on birds, but have always believed that these were being greatly overstated for the most cynical of reasons.”
A windfarm, he says, can be removed but in the meantime would contribute enormously to efforts to counter the dangers facing society.
Mr Hodgson maintains that planning approval today would “cock a snook at European law” and demonstrate scant regard for the welfare of residents.
“Despite this village being in the slide channel of any potential peat-slide there has been no competent, independent assessment of the risks,” he said.
“This is notwithstanding the advice from both Sepa and the British Geological Society to Highland Council that expert opinion was necessary. Highland Council has steadfastly resisted all efforts to address this problem, even denying Swag’s solicitors relevant information.”
He believes windfarms contribute little to the war on climate change, claiming the developers and landowners are the only true beneficiaries.
By Iain Ramage
9 March 2007
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