People living in west Caithness have voted overwhelmingly against plans to develop 21 wind-powered turbines on farmland near Shebster.
A ballot run over the last two weeks of 2007 revealed that just over four in five of those who responded oppose the scheme.
The outcome gives further ammunition to those seeking to block the planning application lodged by Baillie Wind Farm Ltd Opponents claim that the turbines – which would stand 110 metres to their blade-tips – would be a blight on the landscape and on the lives of nearby residents.
Farmer Tom Pottinger, who is spearheading the venture, insists the fears are misplaced and points to the potential operation of a community fund worth £100,000 a year.
The controversial scheme will be the subject of a hearing at the Highland Council’s area planning committee meeting in Halkirk on Tuesday.
Caithness West Community Council commissioned the ballot to give the local authority a first-hand indication of local views.
A total of 1099 papers were issued, with 470 returned by the December 31 deadline.
Seventy-eight (16.6 per cent) voted “yes” and 390 (82.3 per cent) voted “no”, with two spoiled papers. A further 12 letters were received – two for and 10 against – but were discounted as the individuals were not on the electoral list.
Community council chairman Bill Brown said yesterday the outcome vindicated the formal objection previously submitted by the community council.
He said: “I’m very pleased indeed that the position of the community council has been supported by the local people.”
He felt that, given the time of year, the 42.7 per cent response rate was reasonable.
Mr Brown said a breakdown of the ballot revealed that people who live very close to the proposed wind-farm site were far more likely to make their views known.
The response rates for people within two kilometres and between two and five kilometres were 68.4 per cent and 61.3 per cent respectively. This fell to 28.4 per cent for those living over five kilometres away. Mr Brown said: “We did think that people living farther away would be less concerned one way or the other. We were, however, quite pleased with the overall response rate.”
Mr Brown stressed that the community council had not sought to influence the outcome.
He said: “At no time did we carry out any lobbying during the ballot, unlike the developer, who has been going round lobbying and offering people money if they support his scheme.”
Mr Brown added: “It’s not against the law. He’s entitled to do it, but I suppose what he’s offering is a bribe or compensation for the stress and disturbance the wind farm would cause.”
The result of the ballot was welcomed by Caithness Windfarm Information Forum.
Its spokesman Stuart Young said: “Local people have clearly indicated they do not want this wind farm and we hope those making the decision on the planning application will heed their view.”
Mr Young believed the go-ahead for the Baillie scheme could signal the green light for a number of other large-scale wind farms in the Far North.
He said: “I’d encourage everybody who is against the development to attend Tuesday’s hearing as it will be the last chance they get to object.”
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson, who last month met a group of protesters, said last night he was not surprised to learn of the outcome of the ballot.
“The people living close to the site of the proposed wind farm have not been very fairly treated either by the planners or the developer,” Mr Gibson claimed.
“They told me they do not have a lot of faith in Tom Pottinger and the tactics he’s using to gain credibility for his scheme. They also believe the development is totally inappropriate in this area and that there are many other more suitable locations.”
Mr Pottinger yesterday declined to comment on the outcome of the ballot.
He pointed out that a telephone survey carried out on behalf of his company by a professional research agency had shown that 69 per cent of respondents living within 10 kilometres either supported or were neutral about the venture.
Mr Pottinger insists his company has been proactive in consulting local people and keeping them appraised of the plans.
He rejected Mr Brown’s suggestion that it has offered bribes. He said: “We have had very constructive discussions with West Caithness Community Fund regarding the community benefit which could accrue were the wind farm to go ahead. We have offered them the opportunity to be shareholders in it or to receive an annual payment such as the one already paid by the operators of the wind farm at the Causewaymire.”
Tuesday’s hearing into the 57.5-megawatt scheme is being held in the Ross Institute, Halkirk.
The final say will lie with Scottish ministers.
11 January 2008
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