Opponents of a controversial wind-farm development in the county are claiming a victory for democracy following the plan’s rejection by local Highland councillors.
Caithness Windfarm Information Forum’s spokesman Stuart Young yesterday said a strong feeling among local residents against Baillie Wind Farm Ltd’s proposals had made a significant difference to the area planning committee’s verdict.
“We’re obviously very pleased with the decision but we’re also encouraged by a number of other things,” he said. “To have a successful campaign against any wind farm, it has to be led by the people who live there. The groundswell of opinion among local residents against the proposal is what made the difference.”
Mr Young continued: “The fact that the local residents took this into their own hands is very encouraging. It’s good for the people who think there’s nothing they can do about these things – it’s just shown that they can do something about it.”
As reported in Wednesday’s Courier, members of the Highland Council’s Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross planning applications and review committee decided unanimously against the plans, which would see 21 wind turbines – each standing 110 metres to their blade-tips – built on farmland near Shebster.
Following a three-and-a-half-hour hearing on Tuesday they agreed that the visual and cumulative impacts of the 57.5-megawatt scheme were unacceptable.
A 20-strong group of protesters had gathered outside Halkirk’s Ross Institute to greet members as they returned from a two-hour site visit, while many more had assembled inside.
Mr Young yesterday stressed that the decision was likely to have wider implications on the proliferation of wind farms in the county.
He said: “If the council had not opposed it, I believe it would have opened Caithness up to all the wind-farm applications that are current – it was a really important decision. If Baillie hadn’t been opposed, you’d be hard-pressed to find reasons to oppose any wind farm.”
The chairman of Caithness West Community Council, Bill Brown, who spoke against the plans during this week’s hearing, echoed Mr Young’s comments.
He said: “I’m very glad that the decision taken by the councillors followed the wishes of the residents who were most affected by the proposed wind farm. I’m rather sorry that the developer has spent so much time and effort on it when quite clearly the people who were affected didn’t want it.”
A ballot run by Caithness West Community Council over the last two weeks of 2007 revealed that just over four in five of those who responded objected to the scheme.
Achscrabster resident Mr Brown added: “I think it would be very regrettable if the decision had gone in favour of the wind farm. Bearing in mind the high visibility of a wind farm on that particular site, it would certainly give the green light to other proposals over any part of Caithness. The feeling seems to be, if the view is spoiled you can add more wind turbines and spoil it even more.”
Local farmer Tom Pottinger, a director of Baillie Wind Farm Ltd, had argued that the farmland near Shebster was the only acceptable large-scale site left in west Caithness and that the development would provide a valuable diversification opportunity to five agricultural and forestry businesses in the area with few ecological impacts.
Mr Pottinger yesterday declined to comment on the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing.
Scottish ministers will be notified of the committee’s decision and it is likely that a public inquiry will be held into the application. As the development is over 50MW, the final decision lies with Holyrood.
By Elizabeth-Anne Mackay
18 January 2008
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