The public inquiry into the proposal to build a 400,000-volt transmission line from Beauly 136 miles south to Denny opened in Newtonmore yesterday with fresh claims of bias in its conduct.
There were also warnings of how the erection of pylons up to 213ft in height would affect local businesses.
It was the first time the inquiry had been convened within the boundaries of the Cairngorms National Park, where opposition is particularly strong from those who live and work in the park, environmentalists and those who use it for leisure.
Within an hour of opening its first session after the summer break there were complaints from opponents that they were not being treated even-handedly by the inquiry reporters.
There has already been criticism of the inquiry’s refusal to allow certain pieces of evidence challenging the developers’ (Scottish and Southern Energy and Scottish Power) claim that the 600-pylon line is necessary to transmit all the extra power from wind farms in the Highlands and Islands.
Yesterday, Helen McDade, policy officer for the John Muir Trust, had drawn the reporters’ attention to the fact that the developers’ landscape adviser had missed a deadline laid down by the reporters for submitting a precognition and it should therefore not be accepted.
But Ailsa Wilson, QC, for the developers, said the fact it was late was not a reason for rejection only if its lateness prejudiced the other parties.
The reporters were not persuaded there was prejudice, only inconvenience.
Ms McDade said: “Naturally I have to accept that but I would suggest that there is a prejudice to all of the parties in that the applicants (the developers) continually get more time. Despite all their resources they are allowed more time, time and again, to answer the case.” She added: “It is somewhat laughable to hear the applicants pleading they are busy with the £3m they are going to spend on this inquiry. We are all busy too.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Harper, the Cairngorm National Park Authority’s head of economic and social development, has lodged with the inquiry the results of a survey of 19 local businesses with a majority believing they would suffer if the pylons were erected. “The survey found that 12 businesses (63%) would expect their turnover to decrease if the pylon upgrade goes ahead,” he said.
“The rationale behind this opinion was unanimously a concern that stunning views are the area’s main attraction for visitors, and that pylons would have such a detrimental impact on the landscape as to deter many potential guests.”
By David Ross
29 August 2007