A row over renewable energy development in Assynt, thought to have died down two months ago, now looks about to reignite.
Community group the Assynt Foundation came in for severe criticism earlier this year over its perceived failure to consult with local people about plans to erect a six-turbine wind farm development in an area regarded as one of the finest landscapes in western Europe.
Such was the intensity of the opposition that the Foundation was forced to make a U-turn in early July and announce it had put the proposal in the “deep freeze”.
But now plans have been made public to form a new group which will take a fresh look at the potential for renewable energy projects in the area – not just wind, but also tidal, hydro and biomass.
A public meeting to discuss setting up the “Optimum Assynt Renewable Energy Project” is to be held in Lochinver Village Hall next Tuesday evening.
However, opponents of the original Assynt Foundation wind farm proposal are querying who is behind the plans.
Lochinver newsagent John Simpson said he intended “kicking up a stink” at next Tuesday’s meeting.
“There is disquiet in the community over how this has all come about. There appears to have been no democratic decision and it just seems to be a done deal,” he said.
An announcement of the meeting in the most recent edition of community newsletter the Assynt News suggests that the renewable energy project should be affiliated to Assynt Economic Development Association and that Assynt Community Council could be involved in the process of establishing the new group.
But Mr Simpson queried how this had come about, given there was no community council meeting in August.
“This has just appeared all of a sudden and it is very suspicious,” he said. “It states that the community council will do all sorts of things, such as write to landowners informing them of the project and convene the public meeting.
“Well, who in the community council has said they will do that? We cannot get to the bottom of who has produced this.
“It’s supposedly affiliated to the economic development association but we have no minutes for their meetings. Where are the minutes available?”
Assynt Community Council vice-chairman Alistair MacAskill is also a member of the economic development association and is treasurer of Assynt.biz, the Foundation’s trading company.
He said: “The idea behind this new group is to start with a totally clean slate and with all options on the table following the criticism. The public can have all the say they want and all options can be looked at.
“We’re asking for nominations for members of a review board and also a working party.
“If need be, an election will be held on the night amongst those who present themselves.”
Mr MacAskill added: “There is nothing that has been predetermined in the set-up. It is to have a look at renewable energy projects and attempt to bring the public along with us.
“There are those who see a hidden agenda in everything but I can assure you there is no hidden agenda. It is just to see if there is a renewable energy project that can be brought forward for the financial wellbeing of the community.”
Chris Chant, secretary of the economic development association, said the piece that had appeared in the Assynt News was essentially a “briefing document” prepared by local man Mark Snowdon.
Mr Chant said: “Mark Snowdon prepared a briefing document for the community council and that was then passed on to the economic development association.
“All we have done is used that as the basis for discussion at the meeting. Nothing will happen without the full agreement of the community.
“Nothing has been agreed in any form other than the meeting, which is a consultation exercise with the suggestion of a way forward, not the way forward.”
By Caroline McMorran
7 September 2007
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