A multi-million pound inquiry into plans to double electricity pylon sizes from Beauly to Denny restarted in Inverness yesterday–as the Executive considered proposals to abandon it altogether.
Campaign groups against proposals to build 600 towers, some almost 200ft high, have already made three legal submissions claiming major flaws have surfaced in Scottish and Southern Energy’s case and calling for a halt to the inquiry.
But 11 weeks after those submissions were made at the £10 million public inquiry during its “strategic session” in Perth, ministers have yet to consider the documents and decide on their relevance.
The senior inquiry reporter put part of the delay down to the elections but insisted ministers in the new executive would be considering the documents “as a priority”.
Among the first exchanges at the Thistle Hotel in Inverness yesterday, lawyers representing angry campaigners described the delay as “not acceptable” or “responsible”.
John Campbell QC, representing Eilean Aigas estate, Lovat Estates, and Aigas Estates, said, “It is necessary to have a decision on this matter sooner rather than later. It’s not acceptable and frankly it’s not responsible for the matter to have dragged on for as long as it has.”
He was supported by Eddie Hughes, chairman of Scotland Before Pylons, who said, “It is 11 weeks since the legal documents were submitted. This is an unsatisfactory length of time for matters of this impact to be left.”
In addition, submissions have been made by the Beauly Denny Landscape Group (BDLG)–made up of organisations including the John Muir Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.
These claim regulator Ofgem is legally obliged to consider the environmental effects of alternatives to the pylon upgrade and the sustainability of the development but there is “no evidence” Ofgem carried out its statutory duties.
Davie Black, of the Ramblers Association, also part of the BDLG, said, “We believe the application can no longer succeed and to pursue it would be a waste of time and public money. The inquiry should be brought to an end now.”
The documents also claim there was a failure to consider the cumulative, secondary effects of the proposals on areas outwith the stretch between Beauly and Denny, but crucial to power transmission.
Mr Black added, “It’s a waste of time and public money. They should be addressing the strategic issues in the first instance. It could go all the way to December, then it could fall down because of legal technicalities. We are calling for them to stop it now to address the issues. If it’s found that it needs to continue, that’s all well and good.”
Speaking on the first day of a session expected to last five weeks, senior inquiry reporter Timothy Brian said, “We are advised the new ministers will want to consider the legal matters as a priority. Beyond that, I can’t help you further.”
A spokesman for the Executive said, “The legal submissions are under consideration.”
The Inverness leg of the inquiry is the first of four sessions to be held to assess the impact the pylon plans will have at a local level.
Three executive reporters will hear about the impact on land and residents between Beauly and the border of the Cairngorm National Park, before moving on to Newtonmore, Perth and Stirling.
Among those expected to give evidence in Inverness over the next few weeks are Sir John Lister-Kaye, of Eilean Aigas estate, the Lord Lovat Simon Fraser and leading ornithologist Roy Dennis.
SSE insists the proposed line is essential and it would cost “demonstrably” more to bury the cables than the estimated £320 million for its favoured overhead option.
The hearing runs from 10am every day. An updated timetable of those giving evidence is available at www.beaulydenny.co.uk
30 May 2007
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