A 17-turbine windfarm effectively got the go-ahead from Highland councillors yesterday – ending three years of argument dominated by money and fears for the local landscape, tourism and wildlife.
A complex debate about an Anglo-Dutch consortium’s plan for a scaled-down 22-turbine scheme in a mountainous wildlife haven between Lochluichart and Loch Glascarnoch north of Garve, Ross-shire, ended in a compromise.
Local planners decided on a 7-4 vote “not to object” if the developer’s late offer to further reduce the number of turbines to 17 was formalised.
Because of the wattage of the proposed scheme – cut from an initial 43 turbines – Scottish Executive ministers will make the final decision about the 410ft structures.
A 100-strong crowd packed into the tiny Garve village hall for the special planning hearing after the councillors returned from a morning site visit.
Many residents wore badges and clutched banners declaring their support for the proposals by developer Infinergy.
Former National Trust for Scotland chairman Hamish Leslie Melville reaffirmed that there would be “major financial benefits” for the community. As laird of the Lochluichart Estate which would house the scheme, he himself will be among the major beneficiaries.
Locals, however, were left in the dark about the benefits because Infinergy chief executive Charles Sandham flatly refused to reveal any details of financial rewards.
Celebrating the councillors giving their effective blessing for a 17-turbine venture, Mr Sandham said: “We started big, over-ambitious and all the rest of it, but we listened and, as you can see, it’s come down in steps in size until we got there.
“Unfortunately, the only way we can deliver windfarms is from a commercial basis. From a commercial basis I would have liked it as large as possible, but this is fine.”
A spokesman for the Stop Lochluichart Windfarm campaign said: “The decision to effectively recommend approval for 17 turbines flies in the face of public opinion and Highland Council’s own planning policy.
“As a campaign representing 2,000 individuals from all over the world, we are dismayed and disappointed at the councillors’ decision. On two occasions, the local community voted against this windfarm and 17 turbines is hardly any different from 22.
“The council ignored its own planning policy which clearly states there is a presumption against windfarm development in this area.”
It was the verdict of recent community polls objecting to the development that stopped committee members from simply nodding through the 22-turbine proposal – and against strong advice of council officials who pointed, not least, to the authority’s own green energy planning guidelines as a reason to object.
Lochcarron councillor Ewen Mackinnon said: “For me, the important ingredient here is the views of the local community and that’s why I propose that we reject this 22-turbine scheme.”
Colleagues accepted that, agreeing “not to object, subject to the removal of five turbines”. Objectors, fearing for the future of tourism and endangered species including eagles and the red-throated diver, appear to have lost the battle.
The developer will now submit a formal application for 17 turbines.
By Iain Ramage
18 April 2007
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