The rich, colourful history and ‘ephemeral atmosphere’ of Lochindorb and the Dava have led to the unanimous rejection of plans to build 48 wind turbines by the moor.
Highland Council’s Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey planning committee meeting on Monday in the city objected to plans for a 31-turbine windfarm at Glenkirk, six kilometres north-west of Tomatin.
Councillors then went on to reject the 17-turbine Tom nan Clach proposed nearby after fears it would be clearly visible on the skyline from Lochindorb were reinforced by a site visit.
The historic ruined castle in the middle of Lochindorb was the stronghold from which the notorious Wolf of Badenoch, Alexander Stewart, extended his cruel grip over Strathspey in the 14th Century. The ‘Wolf’, son of King Robert 2nd of Scotland, gained his place in history through a string of wicked exploits, including burning Elgin Cathedral in 1390.
Opponents of the proposals appealed to councillors not to allow the beauty spot in the heart of the Dava Moor “to be trashed”.
They claimed many visitors would not return to the area if the go-ahead was given for the windfarms.
However, developers countered that the impact on views had been overstated and said there was no tangible evidence that turbines put tourists off.
Councillors visited both windfarm sites before a lengthy, and sometimes stormy hearing at council headquarters.
Opponents appeared to be outnumbered by windfarm supporters in the chamber; however after hearing from objectors and advice from officials on why the plans should be rejected, councillors voted against both schemes.
Planning team leader David Mudie had recommended rejection on the grounds that the windfarms would have “a significant detrimental impact upon visual amenity and the enjoyment of… the area.”
Mr Mudie pointed out that Drynachan, Lochindorb and Dava Moor have been designated a Special Landscape Area (SLA), and said the windfarms lie ‘principally within an area where there is a presumption against major scale onshore windfarm development.’
Speaking on behalf of Eurus Energy, the developers behind the Glenkirk plans, environmental consultant Peter Moynan argued that the potential impact on the landscape had been significantly overestimated.
He added that the proposed windfarm would produce up to 93 megawatts of electricity annually, and would make a significant contribution to the Scottish Government’s target of generating 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Jobs would be created during the construction of the windfarm and access road from the A9 near Tomatin, which would cross the River Findhorn by means of a new bridge.
Mr Moynan said when up and running, Glenkirk windfarm would employ eight technical staff, one operator and one administrator.
Concerns about access, traffic, potential disturbance to deep peat, risks to watercourses, wildlife and, above all, impacts on tourism were repeatedly raised during the hearing.
Speaking on behalf of Carrbridge Community Council, Kate Clark, said there was strong opposition to the windfarm in the local community.
“We are very worried about the fragile economy of Carrbridge; the livelihoods of many people in the village are reliant on tourism,” she said.
“It is inconceivable that we will not be adversely affected and a development such as this could discourage people from coming to our village.”
Mr Basil Dunlop, a member of Grantown Community Council, suggested windfarms should be built in areas that were “already developed, rather than in unspoiled highlands”.
“Lochindorb is visited by loads of tourists; it is outstanding,” he said. “Perhaps a compromise could be to keep turbines below the skyline so they would not be visible from the loch side.”
Ms Jeannie Munro, of the Save our Dava campaign, told councillors: “Lochindorb is an ancient scheduled monument and a site of national importance. One of Scotland’s greatest assets is the landscape and the landscape belongs to the people.”
Badenoch and Strathspey councillor Stuart Black argued in the debate that ensued that the Highlands had ‘done their fair share’ when it came to hosting new windfarm developments.
“The unspoiled landscape we have here is wonderful, why destroy it?” he asked.
Fellow local councillor Dave Fallows backed him, saying: “I have stood on the summits, walked the moors and fished in these lochans and the windfarms’ impact will be massive.
Quoting the planners’ report, he continued: ‘The special qualities are lonely open moorland and ephemeral atmosphere; expansive views, broad panoramas and vast skies instill a boundless sense of scale and space…
“Buildings or structures would conflict with that impression. There are alternative sites and I agree with the planner’s recommendation that we object to this proposal.”
Despite the council’s objection, the Glenkirk proposal will be determined by the Scottish Government because of its proposed output.
Councillors voted to defer a decision on the associated application to build an access road for the site until Ministers had made their final decision.
The smaller Tom nan Clach proposal was refused planning permission by the committee, despite support voiced by some residents of the Cawdor area.
Mr Roddy Forbes, head keeper on Cawdor Estate, said afterwards: “I do not think the presence of turbines will in any way harm the business and it will provide valuable diversification and sustain the economy in this fragile part of the country.”
Mr Charles Sandham, Chief Executive of Infinergy, the company working jointly with the estate on the Tom nan Clach proposal, said: “The many local people who supported this project will be very disappointed by the decision.
“Unfortunately the councillors dismissed the many strong points of this well designed, compact wind farm and refused it on a single issue; its distant visibility from Lochindorb. This opportunity to help combat climate change has for the moment been lost.
“We will appeal this poor decision and we are confident that a different outcome will do us justice.”
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