The Assynt Foundation has made an unexpected U-turn on its proposal for a controversial wind farm in north-west Sutherland.
Plans for the six-turbine development have been put in the “deep freeze”, Foundation development manager Mark Lazzeri told a packed public meeting this week.
The surprise announcement effectively stymied what had been widely expected to be a particularly angry and heated debate over the issue.
Local shopkeeper Mark Campbell, who runs the outdoor clothing and accessories store Assynt Adventures, said he was delighted at the outcome.
“This has ended up really positively. It is fantastic news for the whole community,” he said.
And Chris Rix, chairman of Assynt Tourism Group said: “I think it is an influx of common sense into the whole process.”
The Foundation, which two years ago led a £2.9 million community buy-out of the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates, had been looking into erecting up to six wind turbines in a National Scenic Area.
The location under consideration for the turbines was within sight of Suilven and Canisp, two iconic mountains in what is widely regarded as one of the finest landscapes in Western Europe.
But the Foundation came under fire for failing to ensure that local people were adequately informed about the proposal. It was claimed an initial public meeting held at the end of March to discuss the issue was not well enough publicised. And there was also criticism that the method used to gauge local opinion at the meeting – a show of hands – was flawed.
But the breach opening up between the Foundation and the community appears now to have been healed following Mr Lazzeri’s statement at a second public meeting in Lochinver Village Hall on Tuesday.
He said: “I would like to clarify the Assynt Foundation position. There is no current work in progress on any wind turbine proposal. The wind turbine proposal as detailed in the executive summary of the feasibility study has been put in the deep freeze and it will remain so whilst all alternatives within the Assynt area are thoroughly investigated, including all appropriate technologies.”
And in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgement that the Foundation has not carried the community with it, Mr Lazzeri continued: “Such investigations will involve all interested parties and will seek to create a community-owned renewable energy project whose aims will be to provide benefit for the whole community which will include securing funding for the Assynt Foundation into the future. In the unlikely event of no suitable alternatives being found, the original proposal will only be re-visited after a full community debate and ballot.”
Assynt Community Council chairman Robin Noble described the meeting as quite “constructive.”
He said: “The Assynt Foundation has come up with this position and that I think is to be welcomed as a constructive way forward. I do think some good work has been done and that the benefits of renewable energy are not going to be lost to the community.”
Mr Noble said there was no point going over old ground but that it was necessary for particular efforts to be made to keep the community fully informed at every stage. “That is the obvious lesson to learn from it and that is what will be done in the future,” he said.
* Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has lodged plans for a major wind farm at Strathy South in north-west Sutherland. The £160 million development consists of 77 turbines measuring 360feet from base to bladetip. It is the second wind farm proposed by SSE for the area. The firm has already submitted a planning application for a 35 turbine wind farm on the north side of Strathy Forest.
Highland Council will be consulted over both applications but the end decision lies with the Scottish Executive because of the size of the development.
by Caroline McMorran
6 July 2007
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