The former deputy first minister has gone into business building windfarms – but has been accused of an “outrageous attempt to bulldoze through the planning process” by one of his party colleagues.
Liberal Democrat Lord Nicol Stephen, who was in charge of Grampian’s planning committee earlier in his career, has joined forces with an oil industry multimillionaire to set up Renewable Energy Ventures following his retirement from Holyrood.
The peer’s first project – to build three wind turbines in Aberdeenshire – has been attacked by his friend and colleague Mike Rumbles, who warned his former leader that he is “in for a fight”.
Last night, the men, who competed against each other for the leadership of the party in 2005, moved to play down the spat.
Mr Rumbles insisted there was no bad blood, but sources close to Lord Stephen say the 51-year-old is “surprised” by the outburst.
Lord Stephen, the former MSP for Aberdeen South who has also served as enterprise minister at Holyrood, announced earlier this year that he was standing down after 28 years of representing the city and north-east, saying it was “time for new challenges”.
He has teamed up with former Body Shop director Michael Ross, from Edinburgh, who became a multimillionaire in 2004 when he and three other co-founders sold Energy North Sea to a Japanese firm for £150million.
Together they want to put up three 325ft turbines on land west of Blackhills Farm, Cushnie, Alford – a site close to Pressendye, where a similar scheme was rejected by the Scottish Government last year.
Objectors said their relief had turned to dismay after learning of the fresh application.
Caroline Gerrie, chairwoman of Stop Turbines in Cushnie (Stic), said: “When Nicol Stephen was deputy first minister, he was always pushing renewable energy. Then he steps down and suddenly he is in business building them.
“The rush for renewable energy at any cost includes the price we have to pay with the industrialisation of our countryside.
“Windfarms have been proved to be inefficient and costly to taxpayers as developers get paid whether the wind blows or not.”
Resident Jeff Van Weereld, who would have a turbine about 400 yards from his home, said: “It will be to the south-west of my house, where I have three windows facing it.”
Mr Rumbles’s dismay has spilled over into anger.
In a statement – posted on the Aberdeenshire West Lib Dem website – he said: “This is a cynical and outrageous attempt by developers to bulldoze through the planning process.
“Aberdeenshire councillors sent a clear message when they unanimously rejected the previous application for a windfarm at nearby Pressendye.
“The developers’ appeal was subsequently, and quite rightly, thrown out by the Scottish Government reporter. If the (new) developers think they can wear down the community’s opposition, they can think again. The developers are in for a fight.”
However, Mr Rumbles said last night he had not fallen out with his former leader.
Asked whether he was aware the proposals had come from his former boss, Mr Rumbles replied: “Yes, I was.”
He added: “There is not a row over it. He is perfectly entitled to do this, and I am perfectly entitled to my opinion. I am trying to become elected to represent the people of this area again and my constituency comes first. There is no bad blood over it.”
Lord Stephen thrashed Mr Rumbles in the Lib Dem leadership race in 2005, securing 76% of the party’s vote.
He insists Mr Rumbles is still his friend.
“I am sure we agree on the need for a big increase in renewable energy over then next few years,” he said.
“Climate change is one of the biggest issues we face in the future.
“The question is about the right scale and location of individual projects.
“It is important to emphasise that this is a significantly smaller application on a less prominent site, involving only three wind turbines.”
Mr Rumbles has served three terms as an MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and is seeking re-election as member for the newly created Aberdeenshire West constituency.
Last night, the SNP seized on the spat.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “This is exactly the sort of Lib Dem hypocrisy and inconsistency that explains why their campaign is in meltdown.”
A new website has been launched in response to the huge number of windfarm applications in Aberdeenshire.
Concerned About Wind Turbines (CAWT) is cataloguing all wind developments at www.cawt.co.uk
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