The Scottish Government has ruled out a referendum on a proposal for a massive North Lewis windfarm, raising hopes among objectors that the planning application could be refused within a matter of days.
The Moorlands Without Turbines (MWT) group is confident that in deciding its fate, Scottish Energy Minister Jim Mather will instead take on board the findings of a series of opinion polls on the island over the past four years which, it claims, have demonstrated overwhelming opposition to the 181-turbine scheme.
The Press and Journal understands that the applicants, Amec, will make an announcement about the project next week promising major job creation at the Arnish fabrication yard if the planning application wins approval.
Mr Mather confirms in a pre-recorded radio interview to be broadcast this afternoon that the Scottish Government has no intention of holding a referendum on the issue, but that a ministerial decision can be expected possibly by the end of this month.
He tells the interviewer: “I think we have consulted widely and heard local opinion loud and clear.”
Asked about the timescale of the decision, he says: “Before the end of this month, I would imagine.”
In the run-up to last year’s Holyrood elections, the MWT group urged the SNP not to hold a referendum on the proposal, but gauge local opinion on the verdicts of the many polls. MWT vice-chairman Iain Macleod said yesterday: “T”What is the point of putting renewables in the Western Isles, as far away from the consumer as you can possibly be, without having an efficient grid system?”
Project manager of the proposed windfarm, John Price, said: “We would feel it unlikely that it would be a ‘no’ decision with the (Western Isles) council having supported it. I would have thought the temptation would be for the minister to refer it to public inquiry or consent it.
“We know that the Stornoway Trust have written to the minister supporting the project and 50% of the whole population of the Western Isles live on that estate.”
Local SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: “The application is wrong for the island because of its sheer scale and impact, and because of its location. Others have argued honourably for a different point of view.
“At the election, I said that I felt there was an opportunity for the community to make their views known through a local referendum. A local referendum would, of course, be a matter for the community to organise.”
Jim Mather is interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Riddoch Questions programme at 1.15pm today.
11 January 2008
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