A secluded area, once frequented by Winston Churchill and which provided inspiration for novelists such as Anthony Trollope and Iris Murdoch, is set to take centre stage at the public inquiry into controversial proposals for a line of giant pylons through the Highlands.
As the Inverness local session of the Beauly to Denny power line inquiry enters into its third week, the inquiry reporters are due to hear evidence from community representatives in Strathglass and Glen Urquhart plus Alex Grigg, joint owner of the historic Hilton Estate at the head of Strathglass.
Over the years Hilton has been host to many distinguished visitors including prime ministers William Gladstone and later Winston Churchill, who learned to drive there.
As well as working to preserve the area’s wild landscape, the estate now lets out Hilton Lodge to self-catering groups.
Mr Grigg argues that the proposed route of the 400kV line in Strathglass will have an “unnecessarily prejudicial impact” on wild landscape which is visited by growing numbers of tourists and has also ignored the existence of a turf dyke, believed by archaeologists to be medieval.
Strathglass and Glen Urquhart Community Councils plus the John Muir Trust, a leading UK charity dedicated to the protection of wild land for both nature and people, will also address the inquiry which resumed yesterday afternoon (Monday) the Thistle Hotel in Millburn Road.
Strathglass Community Council, which represents the communities of Cannich, Struy and the conservation village of Tomich, will highlight the visual impact of a line of pylons up to 65 metres height at the gateway to the Glen Affric National Nature Reserve.
In a door-to-door consultation it found 95 per cent of Strathglass residents were opposed to proposed route with the main reasons cited being visual impact, effect on tourism, ecological impact, health concerns and property prices.
The community council also maintains there has been a lack of consultation by the developers, Scottish and Southern Energy, and that the proposed route goes against local and national planning guidelines and recommendations.
Glen Urquhart Community Council will challenge the proposed route particularly the section between Tomich and Loch Neatty.
Meanwhile, the second week of the public inquiry concluded on Friday with site visits between Beauly and Eskadale including the proposed site for the expansion of Balblair electricity sub station, the River Beauly, Kiltarlity Old Parish Church, Hughton, Ruttle Wood, Kinnerras and Aigas Field Centre.
Also giving evidence last week was Simon Allen, a chartered accountant, who argued that burying the line between Beauly and Eskadale was possible and would cost an extra 17p per year for the average electricity customer across Great Britain – which he believed given the nature of Ruttle Wood and the surrounding landscape would be good value.
He said 13 properties came within 200 metres of the proposed line between Beauly and Eskadale.
“We believe this section of the line should be placed underground, really due to the amount of wirescape which already exists in the Beauly area,” said Mr Allen who had appeared for Eilean Aigas Estate. “There are already eight power lines coming into the Balblair power station.”
“In addition to this 400kV line, there are plans for the potential for another three or four lines. We believe the applications should take a responsible position on this.”
During the three years he had been involved with the project, he had detected a shift in SSE’s attitude.
From saying the technology for burying cables was not available, the company then said it would be 25 times more expensive. Now it was talking about much lower multiples.
Under cross examination from Ailsa Wilson, advocate for SSE, Mr Allen acknowledged he was not an engineer but had 20 years’ experience as a management consultant mainly to the utility sector.
* Mr Grigg, of the Hilton Estate, is expected to speak at the inquiry during the week beginning 25th June.
By Val Sweeney
12 June 2007
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