Seven-year battle that divided Lewis is over
The Scottish Government yesterday crushed seven years of effort to site Europe’s biggest windfarm in the Western Isles, saying it breaks environment laws.
The decision against siting a major industry within a sanctuary for protected species overrules Western Isles councillors who had defied the wishes of much of the North Lewis population.
Around 80% of the 10,924 written objections to the proposal for Barvas Moor on Lewis were from islanders. There were just 98 letters of support for a planning application involving 234 giant turbines and 137 pylons.
It had promised community payouts, hundreds of construction jobs and investment for the struggling Arnish fabrication yard.
But ministers concluded the venture would have “a serious impact” on the Lewis peatlands special protection area (SPA) which is covered by EC bird and habitat directives.
Energy Minister Jim Mather said: “I visited Stornoway last month and heard at first hand a range of deeply-held views. I have also taken ecological advice and advice from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage.
“The windfarm would have significant adverse impacts on the Lewis peatlands SPA, which is designated due to its high value for rare and endangered birds.”
He said that does not rule out other onshore windfarms in the Outer Hebrides. The Scottish Government has promised to meet green energy production targets of 31% of electricity demand by 2011, and 50% by 2020.
“Bitterly disappointed” Amec subsidiary Lewis Wind Power (LWP), which had latterly offered to reduce the scheme to 176 turbines, is considering its next move.
It said in a statement: “We believe we had put forward a detailed case showing the benefits of our proposal and that we demonstrated that this could have been approved without violating European law. This represents a huge missed opportunity.”
Local politicians praised the integrity of islanders.
Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said it marked “the end of a very long and at times painful debate”, and it was time for everyone to “move on together and work for the common aim of the islands’ much-needed economic development”.
Western Isles Council vice- convener Angus Campbell said the decision contradicted the SNP government’s support for renewable energy.
“It is the government’s responsibility to allow us to benefit from the resource we have. This would have been the biggest community windfarm in Europe,” he said.
“It would also have provided the stimulus for a sub-sea grid connection from the Western Isles. I do ask about the commonsense behind this decision.”
Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron also condemned the decision. She said: “We cannot afford for the Scottish Government to play fast and loose with the security and reliability of our future electricity supplies and run the risk of the lights going out in Scotland.”
Welcoming the decision, Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “It sends a very strong message that in meeting our ambitious and welcome renewable targets we do not have to sacrifice our most important environmental resources.”
SNH’s Western Isles and Rum area manager, David Maclennan, welcomed the recognition of SPA status and protection of species including golden eagle, red-throated diver, black-throated diver, greenshank, golden plover, dunlin and corncrake.
Scottish Wildlife Trust chairman Dennis Dick said the decision sent a clear message that the government was “serious and committed to the protection and sustainability of Scotland’s most important wildlife sites”.
Bob Graham, chairman of Highlands Against Wind Farms, warned communities on the mainland to “brace themselves” as the government would be looking elsewhere for windfarm sites.
Labour’s Scottish energy spokesman, Lewis Macdonald, claimed the SNP’s declarations of support for renewable energy had been exposed as “a sham”.
He said: “From Clashindarroch in rural Gordon to the LWP proposals in the Western Isles, SNP ministers have failed the test again and again when they have been challenged to support major renewables projects.”
While Labour MSPs yesterday tabled a parliamentary motion demanding “compensation” for the Western Isles’ loss of investment, Liberal Democrat Scottish energy spokesman Liam McArthur called on the SNP to develop a “proper” energy strategy for Scotland.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise chief executive Sandy Cumming was confident that other energy development opportunities existed on the islands. He was echoed by Jason Ormiston of trade body Scottish Renewables, who said industry, government and communities “must now respond to ensure there is a strong future for wind power in the islands”.
By Iain Ramage
22 April 2008
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