A plan to build a £53 million wind farm on a Highland estate took a step forwards yesterday when councillors ignored officials’ advice and backed the project.
British-Dutch developer Infinergy/LZN had applied to erect 22 wind turbines, up to 410ft high, with a capacity of 66 megawatts (MW) on the Lochluichart Estate, near Garve in Wester Ross.
The developer had scaled down the original proposal, which was for 43 turbines with a capacity of up to 129MW, and indicated it was willing to reduce the number of towers further to 17.
Highland Council received more than 800 letters of support for the plan to build on land owned by Hamish Leslie Melville, a former chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, backing the local generation of green power and the creation of jobs.
It also received almost 2,000 objections, mainly relating to visual impact and the effects of the proposal on tourism and wild birds.
John Rennilson, the council’s planning director, had recommended that the authority object to the plan, which will be considered by the Executive.
However, the Ross and Cromarty area planning committee yesterday voted 7-4 against making an objection, on condition that the plan is restricted to 17 turbines.
In his report to the committee, Mr Rennilson said the site was not covered by any statutory natural heritage or landscape designations, but the Beinn Dearg and Ben Wyvis Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) were nearby, as were a number of sites of European significance for wild birds.
The site also lay in an area with a “presumption against” major wind farm development in the council’s renewable energy strategy.
Mr Rennilson said the acceptability of the proposals with regard to their visual impact was a subjective matter.
“The deletion of a further five turbines as suggested by the applicant should ensure that the proposals would not have a significant adverse visual impact from tourist routes. However, this is unlikely to make a significant difference for those experiencing the site from surrounding mountains,” he said.
He pointed out that while the developer acknowledged Wester Ross was one of the main tourism areas in the Highlands, it considered the area where the site is located as being “transitional”, in that most people pass the site.
He added: “This is not disputed. However, as the quality of scenery is the most significant attraction of the Highlands, and the key reason that visitors return, any adverse visual impact created by the development may result in the visitor experience being diminished.”
The developer said between 80 and 100 jobs would be created during construction of the wind farm.
It is also proposing to establish a community fund, equivalent to £132,000 per year or £3.3 million over the 25-year life of the wind farm.
Supporters and objectors have clashed over the impact of the proposal, with claims that the developers exaggerated its carbon-saving benefits and its electricity output, and failed to carry out proper rare-bird studies.
By John Ross
18 April 2007
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