A planning hearing into a £90 million wind farm in east Sutherland this week ended up mired in confusion.
Doubt and uncertainty surrounded the outcome of the hearing at Brora’s Royal Marine Hotel on Tuesday into a 35-turbine development on hill ground owned by the Tyser family at Gordonbush Estate, Strath Brora.
Disgruntled wind farm opponents have slated the meeting as shambolic and a total farce.
The final decision on the wind farm lies with the Scottish Executive, but Highland Council had been asked for their views on it.
Members of the newly formed Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Planning Applications and Review Committee neither objected to the wind farm nor give it outright backing.
Instead, they supported it by default, by voting in favour of a confusing motion that there were no planning grounds on which it could be turned down.
At the same time, they agreed that the Scottish Executive be asked to hold a Public Local Inquiry because of the strength of local feeling. But in the absence of an objection by the council, that request is not likely to hold much sway.
Planners received 449 objections on a wide range of issues including the impact on wildlife, the landscape, roads, tourism, local archaeology, energy production and planning policy.
The hearing was condemned as shambolic by Brora Community Council chairman John McMorran who spoke against the wind farm. He said he was disappointed that East Sutherland and Edderton councillors Ian Ross and Deirdre Mackay had chosen not to move to object which, if carried, would have automatically triggered a public inquiry. “So much for the Scottish Executive’s ambition to engage communities in the planning process,” he said.
Former Brora and Helmsdale councillor Rita Finlayson, who also spoke, condemned it as a farce, and a wasted day.
Councillor Ian Ross, Golspie, said after the hearing on Tuesday that he would be approaching officials asking for clarification.
“The decision is confused and unsatisfactory and I feel it is unlikely to address the very real concerns which exist and I would be pleasantly surprised if a public local inquiry was to result,” he said.
“I have now approached the director of planning and requested an interpretation of what was decided and its implications. I am concerned it means, in effect, we have supported the application by neither objecting nor putting forward any clear and specific alternatives.”
Councillor Ross initially told the hearing he was unhappy that little community consultation had recently been undertaken by Scottish and Southern Energy regarding the development, which was first mooted four years ago.
He then called unsuccessfully for a decision on the application to be deferred because of worries over the route to be taken by wind farm construction traffic.
Developers Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) are proposing to transport the turbines from Invergordon via the A9 through Golspie and Brora, before turning off the trunk road at the north end of Brora and onto the Clynelish Distillery road and from there on to the single-track Strath Brora road.
But Golspie residents in particular are concerned that vibration from the heavy traffic could further damage the fragile road structure as well as the properties lining the A9 through Golspie.
They want to see Gordonbush wind farm traffic take the new route recently constructed for traffic to the Kilbraur wind farm. That leaves the A9 just south of Golspie and goes through Drummuie before joining the Dunrobin Glen road. A new road would then have to be constructed to join up with the Strath Brora road.
But Councillor Ross’s motion for deferral was turned down by six votes to five in favour of a decision being taken there and then.
Councillors then went on to vote 8-3 against a motion by Councillor Graeme Smith, Caithness, to give outright support to the application and in favour of an amendment by Councillor Richard Durham, Ross and Cromarty, that there were no grounds for objection but that a Public Local Inquiry could be the way forward.
The council has been asked to make its views known to the Scottish Executive by September 20.
28 June 2007
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