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Fury after Highland windfarms U-turn

A planning inquiry into two windfarms in central Sutherland took a dramatic turn yesterday when Highland Council withdrew its objection to one of the developments at the 11th hour.

Windfarm objectors said last night the council’s U-turn “beggars belief” and demanded an explanation.

The announcement that the council had no legal grounds for opposing an appeal by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) came at the end of the three-and-a-half-week inquiry at Lairg Community Centre. It is due to conclude today with a final site visit.

Scottish Executive inquiry reporter Janet McNair is conducting a joint inquiry into SSE’s appeal against the council’s refusal of planning permission for 23 turbines at Achany, near Lairg, and another by Airtricity for a 23-turbine windfarm on Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed’s Invercassley Estate at Beinn Rosail, Strath Oykel, near Rosehall.

Ms McNair has heard evidence from both developers, Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and local residents.

During the inquiry, SSE advocate Ailsa Wilson said the Highland renewable-energy strategy was inconsistent with national policy and national policy should be preferred.

Highland Council solicitor Susan Blease told Ms McNair in her closing submissions yesterday that the council would now need to review its renewable-energy strategy.

She said: “It is not considered appropriate to make a submission to this inquiry that there is any basis in law to refuse the Achany appeal.”

This meant none of the statutory consultees had objected to the Achany windfarm as SNH opposed only the Invercassley proposal.

Russell Smith, who represented Creich and Ardgay and District Community Councils at the inquiry, said: “It beggars belief. We feel we’ve been let down and I think we need an explanation as to why so much work has been involved and, at the last minute, despite previous refusals to accept this, they are now saying it’s OK.”

He added that both appeals would still be decided by the reporter.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said yesterday it was impossible to say when Ms McNair’s decisions would be announced.

Highland Council could not be contacted for comment.

The Press and Journal

15 August 2007