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Wind farm gets thumbs down

Objectors to a proposed wind farm in north Caithness have won the first round of their battle with a large power company.

They welcomed the unanimous thumbs-down given yesterday to the 13-turbine scheme planned for Durran Mains, near Castletown. But they are now gearing up to counter SSE Generations Ltd’s expected appeal against the decision of the Highland Council’s Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross planning committee.

After a morning visit to the site, councillors went along with the recommendation of their officials to reject the scheme.

Landward Caithness member Willie Mackay said the wind farm, which would extend over 700 feet above sea level, is totally unacceptable.

The turbines are earmarked to occupy four-square kilometres of ground adjoining the small settlements of Achingills, Hilliclay, Knockdee, Stemster and Durran. It includes land on Tister Farm, Durran Mains and Fryster.

The proposal is within 100 metres of half-a-dozen dwellings and four new house plots. The planning application attracted 422 objections and 271 letters of support.

In the anti-camp are Bower and Dunnet and Canisbay community councils while Halkirk CC has taken a neutral stance. Historic Scotland objects because of the likely impact on five ancient cairns.

Principal planner Gordon Mooney said the wind farm would breach six policies within the Highland and Caithness development plans.

He believed the turbines – with a blade-tip height of 90 metres – would have an over-bearing impact on nearby houses and scheduled ancient cairns.

The development, he claimed, would impinge upon scenic viewpoints enjoyed from main tourist routes. National guidelines suggest a two-kilometre buffer zone between major wind farms and the nearest community. Mr Mooney noted that this would take in the settlements of Durran and Achingills.

He said: “It is clear that several houses with no financial interest in the project will be impacted by the wind farm as their outlook and views from the garden and windows will be altered. Visual effects will be most significant around the dispersed communities of Durran and Bower where turbines will be visible to the south, south-east and north-east.”

Mr Mooney added: “The benefits of the proposal must be weighed against potential drawbacks.” It scored well in contributing towards green energy targets and would also create short-term construction jobs and a local community benefit fund – but he said this was outweighed by objections to the proposal and its departures from the development blueprint.

Jon Soal, SSE’s project manager, said it had scaled back the development from the 32 turbines which had been initially proposed. “We’ve adapted the design to accommodate local sensitivities,” he said.

Mr Soal added that while it is not unusual for locals to oppose wind farms, he said there has been a remarkably high level of support for the scheme.

Tister farmer Alistair Swanson said the scheme will generate up to 19.5 megawatts of green energy as well as provide construction jobs and economic diversification for six local households.

But Alan Roberts, of Bower Community Council, said 48 houses would be within two kilometres of a turbine.

He said: “The visual impact on the surrounding areas would be extreme and the impact on those nearby households would be catastrophic.

“The development would have a long-term detrimental impact on the people of Bower and one which cannot be mitigated.”

He added that residents would suffer noise and sleep deprivation problems.

Gillock resident John Brotherston said: “No-one holds a monopoly on views from their front windows but no community or individual should be surrounded by these giant structures and I feel Gillock is about to be.”

Mr Brotherston said the development would blight what is a scenic agricultural valley.

Ben MacGregor, whose house at Hilliclay would be a kilometre from the nearest turbine, said people in his area are overwhelmingly opposed to the wind farm. He said: “This large industrial development is completely inappropriate for a local, farming environment.

“It’s much too close to roads and housing in Hilliclay and Durran, and will cause problems with noise and shadow flicker. It’s enormously out of scale with the low hills and surrounding countryside.”

Mr MacGregor also believed the turbines would affect wildlife including wildcat, ospreys and buzzards.

Mr Mackay said the proposal was in the completely wrong place. He said: “Why target a hill 127 metres high which, coupled with the height of the turbines, means you’re looking at something like 710 feet above sea level – that is totally unacceptable.”

While supporting the drive for green energy, he said: “It’s a pity if we have to ruin the planet to save it.”

After the meeting, a SSE spokesman said: “We’re disappointed at the outcome today. We’ll go away and consider whether or not an appeal is the next step for us.”

The plan also attracted objections from Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB.