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Eishken windfarm inquiry enters fourth day

The proposed 53 turbine wind farm at Muaitheabhal on Eishken Estate in Lewis would be a catalyst for the regeneration of one of the most disadvantaged area within the Western Isles. It could bring major benefits, including the provision of a new sub-sea connector to the mainland.

This was stated by David Stewart, a planning consultant, in his evidence to the public local inquiry at Stornoway which entered its fourth day today (Friday).

Mr Stewart, who has 38 years in town planning and been involved in 47 wind farm cases which have been taken to public inquiry, was appearing on behalf of the applicants, Beinn Mhor Power Ltd.

The application for the £120 million scheme, which was approved by the Western Isles Council, has been made by Nick Oppenheim, the owner of the Eishken Esate.

Mr Stewart said the proposal was unique in being the first Section 36 application supported at local level which had had to come to inquiry anywhere in the UK.

He told Miss Janet MacNair, Inquiry Reporter, that the very limited remit of the inquiry was essentially a balancing exercise between the national advice in NPPG14 and what he regarded as the nationally important objectives of rebuilding the social and economic structure of the Western Isles – not through grant money and national funding exercises – but through a development within the isles that had the capacity to create long-lasting change.

He added: “The loss of capacity already through the requirements of the nature conservation legislation means that the emphasis on Muaitheabhal is even more focussed and the balancing exercise has to be carried out even more carefully. I do not subscribe to the Scottish Natural Heritage view that the benefits to the isles are local or regional – they are of national importance.

“Nor do I believe that the major community fund benefits which are quite separate from the economic regeneration from the actual construction should be sidelined as of no weight merely because they are discretionary. The involvement of the community is encouraged at every level.

“The Trusts have already been set up and have embarked on the exercise of identifying how and where the funding can be distributed. Without this it is difficult to see how one of the most disadvantaged areas within the Isles can be regenerated in the short and medium term, and as part of the wider social and economic regeneration of the Isles this is an important factor.”

Mr Stewart said that there was no dispute that there would be effects on the NSA and that for certain limited areas of it these would be significant. However the changes were not permanent and their evidence demonstrated very clearly that the proposals should be supported as being in the national interest on both social and economic grounds, in respect of the targets and the national need for a new inter-connector.

The inquiry is due to conclude next Thursday and prior to that there will be a site visit.

Stornoway Gazette

16 May 2008