Councillors snubbed an eleventh hour opportunity to withdraw their objection to a controversial windfarm proposal.
Planning, housing and environment services committee members were presented with a financial report on Tuesday detailing the costs of a public inquiry into a 23-turbine multi-million pound project at Blackcraig.
Among the options on the table were not progressing with the objection and potentially saving the council a fortune.
There are concerns the public inquiry over Scottish and Southern Energy’s (SSE) proposal could cost the council as much as £400,000 if they lose out – with some officials fearing they are fighting a lost cause.
The six-figure sum would be a bitter pill for the council to swallow given the dire financial predictions made by finance director Robin Bennie last month.
A source told the ‘News’: “The officers are concerned that they are going to have to spend public money for no reason.
“It has been said that it could cost as much as £400,000 and that is a lot of money in the current climate.”
SSE’s windfarm application was debated by three committees on four separate occasions – and finally given the red card in February.
But as the development would produce more than 50MW of electrical generation, the Scottish Executive will make the final decision.
Council leader Ivor Hyslop defended the local authority’s stance – and told the ‘News’ there could have been costly consequences with an objection withdrawal at this stage.
He said: “The decision had been through the proper democratic process.
“We felt we had made a decision and were prepared to stick by it. Everybody seemed happy to go with it.
“We don’t know what the consequences would have been had we withdrawn our objection.
“The developers would have had the option of coming back to us and challenging our decision. I don’t know how much they would have been awarded in costs.”
Councillor Hyslop voted against the scheme in February and added: “There has been nothing that has made me change my mind about my decision.
“Three different committees objected to the proposal on planning grounds and now we will proceed to the inquiry.
“If you are looking at taking finance into it, then you are not looking at it on planning grounds.
“The council’s policy on windfarms was drawn up when turbines were 40 metres high. Now some are between 80-100 metres tall.”
The first stage of the inquiry process took place at Balmaclellan Village Hall yesterday.
A pre-inquiry hearing was arranged to outline who will represent each side at the public inquiry.
It was chaired by reporter Malcolm Mahony of the Executive’s reporters unit.
The council will need to hire external consultants to fight the windfarm after planners recommended the proposal for approval.
One councillor said: “It was felt that because the application had been through so many committees, we were bound to go through with this inquiry.”
“The council are going to fight this to the bitter end.
“But it is an absolute mess. That is the bottom line.”
SSE’s proposal conformed with all of the council’s planning guidance set specifically for windfarms.
It has the backing of 1,000-strong petition from people within a 20-mile radius of the Glenkens.
But members voted against the development on the basis that it could be seen from the Southern Upland Way and may have an impact on tourism.
Last year, the inquiry costs of fighting a 71-turbine windfarm at Harestanes in the Ae Forest were estimated at £200,000.
Roland Chaplain, of the Glenkens Sustainable Development Steering Group (GSDSG), said: “I don’t think the councillors realise the cost implications of an inquiry.”
An SSE spokeswoman said: “We are still pleased with the support from the local community and are looking forward to the public inquiry.”
Meanwhile, members at Tuesday’s committee meeting deferred a decision to continue the contract of a community benefits windfarm officer beyond June 2008.
In a report prepared for members, they were told that numerous risks exist if the post isn’t continued including a “potential loss of substantial income to community councils.”
But more information was called for and Mr Chaplain said: “I think it would be better if communities are able to work and speak directly with developers.”
By Colin Paterson
16 August 2007
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