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Fresh windfarm images demanded; Concerns over accuracy of photos

Highland Council has questioned the accuracy of windfarm developers’ commonly-used method of electronically superimposing turbines on to photographs of landscapes so people can visualise the likely impact.

The council has insisted on fresh images, or photomontages, for the five-turbine Nigg Hill proposal at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth after complaints from community councils that the scale of the project was underestimated.

Senior planners have instructed consultants employed by Falck Renewables to withdraw their plan because of “inadequacies” in its data.

Council official Gordon Mooney told Inverness-based Atmos Consulting, the project manager, that its visualisations “do not fully assess the potential significant impacts” of the scheme.

For the visuals, Atmos employed landscape architects Horner and Maclennan, co-authors of Scottish Natural Heritage’s official guidelines on windfarm planning. Ironically, SNH has objected to the Nigg project amid concerns about its effects on the Cromarty Firth and Loch Eye special protection areas.

In a letter to Atmos, Mr Mooney described its technical data as “unreadable”. He also said there was insufficient information about the viewing of panoramic images and that photographic quality and definition of photographs was “extremely poor and therefore unacceptable”.

Having reviewed numerous Highland windfarms, Mr Mooney said: “In retrospect, from what was submitted and what has been built and how that measures up, the visuals seriously under-represent what has actually been built.”

He discussed the Nigg plan yesterday with Atmos, who earlier told the Press and Journal that Mr Mooney had not been updated about “a heck of a lot of correspondence and discussion with Highland Council in the spring and summer of 2007”.

Project manager Fraser Mackenzie said: “On the selection of viewpoints, Gordon’s letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of all the correspondence that went on with the council.”

Peter Grant, of the Nigg Awareness Group, opposed to the planned 410ft turbines, said: “We were appalled at the quality of the photomontages and are extremely pleased this has been recognised by the council.”

NATS, the national air traffic control service, has also objected to the development, along with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, which fears the turbines could affect radar and local air traffic safety.

By Iain Ramage

The Press and Journal

9 July 2008