A Scottish Government reporter has effectively reversed Highland Council’s initial decisions on two controversial windfarms in a picturesque area of central Sutherland.
In July and August of this year, inquiry reporter Janet McNair conducted a three-and-a-half-week-long joint planning inquiry into Airtricity’s appeal against refusal of planning permission for a 23-turbine windfarm on Harrods boss Mohamed Al Fayed’s Invercassley Estate at Beinn Rosail, Strath Oykel, near Rosehall, and an appeal by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) regarding 23 turbines at Achany, near Lairg.
She has now granted planning consent, subject to conditions, for the SSE development and refused planning permission for the Airtricity proposal.
The council’s planning, development, Europe and tourism committee initially approved the Invercassley application and rejected the Achany proposal.
However, the Invercassley decision was challenged by eight councillors and was then refused by a majority of 19 votes to 11. Both SSE and Airtricity appealed against refusal of planning permission and the council opposed both appeals throughout the inquiry, but withdrew its opposition to the Achany appeal during the closing submissions.
The SSE development – estimated to cost around £55million and scheduled to be commissioned in 2010 – will produce 40MW of electricity and create about five long-term local jobs.
Around 60 people will be involved in the construction work, expected to begin next year, and local contractors will be encouraged to submit tenders for the project.
SSE chief executive, Ian Marchant, said he was pleased it had finally received consent. He criticised the planning process as it has taken more than two years to reach a decision on the application, which was submitted in October 2005.
“It remains much too time-consuming and unpredictable to be an effective means of realising Scotland’s and the UK’s renewable energy requirements,” said Mr Marchant.
Airtricity said last night it had not given up on the Invercassley site.
A spokesman for the company said: “While we are disappointed at the decision to dismiss the appeal, the extremely narrow areas of concern highlighted by the reporter reinforce our belief in and commitment to this project. We are therefore holding discussions with our land owners and will be looking at options for this site, which take into account all the reporter’s comments.”
Local people opposed both schemes, claiming they would have a severe adverse impact on the local road network and tourism.
Russell Smith, who represented Creich and Ardgay and district community councils, said they were disappointed the Achany proposal had been approved.
A Scottish Government spokesman said Energy Minister Jim Mather was looking at setting a target of nine months for new energy applications to be determined, where there was no public inquiry.
18 December 2007
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