Windfarm objectors in the far north have accused Highland Council of unnecessary censorship of its online presentation of planning applications for windfarms.
They claim the blacking out of information on the potential impact of turbines on local protected wildlife sites, biases schemes in favour of developers.
But the local authority yesterday insisted it has to conform with environmental legislation not to reveal where endangered species live.
Barbara Herrick of Upper Bowertower, Bower, complained about the withholding of information at last month’s pre-hearing for a public inquiry being held into the proposed 30-turbine Spittal Hill windfarm.
Asked how people can access supporting documentation, she was advised by inquiry reporter Trevor Croft that they would be available on the council website.
She said yesterday: “I asked whether he was aware that references to wildlife would be heavily redacted. He knew nothing of this, neither did the council officials or the developer’s team.”
She cited the removal of 20 pages from the environmental statement of the proposed windfarm at Upper Smerral, near Latheron.
She said: “I started getting complaints from objectors that their comments were similarly redacted on the website.”
Mrs Herrick said she was told by a representative of Scottish Natural Heritage that the council was not interpreting the instruction correctly and it should only apply to very rare protected species.
Thrumster Estate director Islay MacLeod, who is protesting about plans for a nine-turbine scheme at nearby Burn of Whilk, was also astonished to find the number of blacked-out sections when she browsed the council’s e-planning site.
She said the only letters of representation posted are eight in support which were received after the scheme was revised.
Mrs MacLeod said the 150-plus objections and 30-plus letters of support previously sent in are not displayed.
Miles Watters, the council’s Freedom of Information officer, said the website can potentially be accessed by millions of people so they have to be very careful about what appears, and to comply with EU legislation about not publishing the whereabouts of protected species.
He said: “Our staff are not environmental experts so they do err on the site of caution.”
He did not see any reason why under normal circumstances names of objectors or supporters of an application would be blacked out.
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