Moves are being made to bridge the bitter breach which has opened up between the Assynt Foundation and the local community over the former’s controversial plans for a wind farm in the area.
The chairman of Assynt Community Council is calling for a second public meeting to be held into the proposal, followed by a ballot.
Robin Noble has also suggested that a private meeting should take place between representatives of the Foundation and the community council along with opponents of the wind farm.
The moves are seen as a bid to smooth over the growing bad feeling amongst some local people about the way the Foundation has handled its public consultation exercise into the development.
The Foundation, which two years ago led a £2.9 million community buy-out of the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates, is hoping to erect up to six wind turbines in a National Scenic Area.
The turbines would be within sight of Suilven and Canisp, two iconic mountains in what is widely regarded as one of the finest landscapes in Western Europe.
Those in favour say the development would help regenerate the local economy and combat climate change, but those against claim it would spoil the landscape and put tourists off coming to the area.
Already strong feelings over the issue were exacerbated by the Foundation’s claim, following a public meeting earlier this year, that it had a mandate from the community to proceed to the next stage of the proposal.
A number of local people ““ including three Lochinver shopkeepers ““ said the meeting had not been adequately publicised, turnout was low and the method used to gauge local opinion about the plan ““ a show of hands ““ was deeply flawed.
The issue was on the agenda for discussion at a meeting of Assynt Community Council last night (Thursday), prior to which chairman Mr Noble circulated a statement to members.
In his statement, Mr Noble acknowledged that feelings were running high and said it was therefore necessary to move as quickly as possible.
“I understand that there are those in the community who are unhappy with the way this whole matter has been handled up to now, and that there remain concerns about openness and communication,” he wrote.
Mr Noble revealed he had approached Foundation chairwoman Claire Belshaw, asking if a community council representative could be present the next time the Foundation discussed the wind farm proposal. She had agreed.
In addition, Mr Noble called for a small private meeting to be held as soon as possible. He suggested the meeting would be chaired by a community council representative and attended by two Foundation representatives and two wind farm opponents.
“The purpose of this meeting would be twofold ““ one to ensure that both sides could be confident that their views were being treated with consideration and respect and two, to agree the content and organisation of the public meeting,” Mr Noble commented.
“I feel very strongly that a public meeting must allow all interested parties to put their case, and question the others, but for that to happen it is necessary to agree beforehand how it will be run, and what its scope will be.
“I feel that this represents a sensible way forward, and I would ask the members of the community council to give this proposal their support.”
But Mr Noble warned that the community council must maintain a neutral position during the consultation exercise and its job was to ensure the community as a whole was allowed to express its views.
He also revealed that it was his view that proposals for a wind farm should not be rejected out of hand.
He said: “I have also to recognise that there are those in the Assynt Foundation who genuinely support these proposals, and that they, too, are members of the community. I am also aware that for several years, many of us in Assynt have recognised the narrow economic base of the parish, and the lack of employment opportunity.
“For these reasons, it is my view that proposals for a wind farm should not be rejected out of hand.
“I suggest it is entirely sensible for the options to be fully explained at another public meeting and subjected to the close scrutiny of the interested community.
“This would then be followed by a ballot.”
The Northern Times
25 May 2007
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