Highland councillors are to devote time to assessing a patch of garden decking rather than a site visit to consider an application for a 33-turbine windfarm stretching over 1,700 acres.
The distraction of the retrospective planning issue, in a Ross-shire back garden, means they will miss Friday’s deadline for a response to a Scottish Government consultation on the 360ft (110m) tall turbines that Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) wants to build in Strathy Forest, Sutherland.
Due to the scale of the windfarm, it will be judged by Scottish ministers – who have openly welcomed windfarms as part of the SNP government’s green energy policy.
As statutory consultees, the members of the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross planning committee can only comment on it.
One member, Robert Coghill, who is shocked by the lack of a visit to the forest site, will urge committee colleagues to seek an extension to the deadline to allow proper scrutiny of photomontages of how SSE envisages the turbines appearing on the landscape.
The committee will instead convene 50 miles south in Alness tomorrow after studying a 27ft (8.3m) by 11ft (3.4m) patch of decking and proposal for a small shed in the town’s Garden Square.
The fact that the turbines application, handled by principal planner Ken McCorquodale, will not be properly considered by members has alarmed anti-windfarm campaigners and Far North councillor Mr Coghill, who phoned the council’s chief executive Alistair Dodds late last week to ask what could be done and said Mr Dodds was “concerned” by the situation.
“He acknowledged my concern and the way this planning application was shoved on at the end of this agenda with no provision for a site visit,” said Mr Coghill.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “The date of March 18 for a response to the Scottish Government Energy Consents Unit was negotiated on the basis that the application would be taken to the local committee.
“If, at this committee, members decide to defer making a decision we will notify the consents unit of this. We understand there will be instances where ministers agree to extend the deadline.”
A total of 169 people registered objections to the windfarm application while the government received six letters supporting it.
Mr McCorquodale is recommending councillors approve it.
Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) spokesman Stuart Young, of Westside, Dunnet, said: “The council seems to have got the balance wrong.
“I’m sure it’s important for the people who want the decking but a £100million industrial development in an area on the north coast that we want people to enjoy is surely worth a bit more than a casual reference.”
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