The public inquiry into controversial plans to string electricity pylons across the Highlands has been condemned as a “charade” by a former ministerial adviser, prompting calls for it to be abandoned.
Roger Crofts, who was chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for 10 years, has launched a fierce attack on the Scottish Executive, which he claims is prejudicing the inquiry.
“The decision is already made and the inquiry is a waste of time,” he said, adding that the process was “unfair” and likely to end up mired in legal action.
The inquiry is investigating Scottish and Southern Energy’s £320 million plan to run pylons 220 kilometres from Beauly, west of Inverness, to Denny, west of Falkirk. More than 17,000 objections have been made, and the inquiry is scheduled to last until at least the end of the year.
The industry argues that an upgrade of Scotland’s power lines is essential to bring renewable electricity from wind, wave and tidal sources in the north to the central belt. But objectors say the pylons will destroy the landscape, are in the wrong place and may not be needed.
Crofts, who worked for the Scottish Office for 17 years before heading SNH, gave evidence to the inquiry last week.
“I’m amazed that formal government documents from the Scottish Executive and Department of Trade and Industry DTI have explicitly stated the need for the Beauly to Denny upgrade,” he said.
“This entirely prejudices the minister’s decision. If the minister refuses the application it will be going against stated government policy, and approval will surely be open to legal challenge.”
Crofts claimed the Executive’s lack of overall strategy on renewable energy had resulted “in confusion and waste of time and money” in deciding applications.
He also claimed the inquiry was weighted against community groups who opposed the pylons but lacked the resources to make an effective case.
“The government has already made up its mind, so the inquiry process is a charade,” he added.
A leading objector to the plan called for the inquiry to be halted in the light of Crofts’s concerns.
Dave Morris, director of the Ramblers’ Association Scotland, said: “This inquiry is a shambles. Labour and Liberal Democrat ministers have been steamrollered into the project by UK ministers, led by the DTI and energy companies. It’s all about meeting the energy needs of Birmingham and Basingstoke rather than the needs of the Scotland and its people.”
Last week, the inquiry ruled out expert evidence that objectors said destroyed the economic case for the pylons. “This reinforces the suspicion that this inquiry is a foregone conclusion,” said Helen McDade of the John Muir Trust.
The SNP said that, if elected to power on Thursday, they would let the inquiry run its course. But the party’s energy and environment spokesman, Richard Lochhead, promised a decision on the pylons would not be taken in isolation.
“We’d want to look at it in the context of a Scottish energy strategy, including where and how power is produced.”
A Scottish and Southern spokesman said: “It’s not appropriate for us to comment on or add to the exchanges taking place within the inquiry.”
By Rob Edwards
29 April 2007
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