An emphatic ‘no thank you’ from the Cairngorms National Park Authority for a 31-turbine wind farm has been welcomed by residents living in the village nearest the proposed site.
Members of the park’s planning committee, meeting in Newtonmore on Friday, unanimously agreed to object to the development proposed by RWE-N Power Renewables at Allt Duine in the eastern Monadhliath Mountains.
The site is located on the Alvie, Dalraddy and Dunachton estates, and runs along the boundary of the national park, with access from the A9 road by Kincraig.
There was a general sense of relief amongst tourism businesses yesterday (Tuesday) that the park’s planning committee had come out strongly against the wind farm plans.
Mrs Patsy Thompson, who runs Insh House with her husband, Nick, said: “It’s good to see them doing what they should be doing – protecting the area’s beauty rather than simply bureaucratically chasing up local people over genuine local applications. This wind farm appears to be far too close to the national park for comfort.
“Our guests here don’t make too big a song and dance about the plan, but then they won’t see it literally from our guesthouse. It’s when they go off for their walks in Glenfeshie that it will hit them, and maybe hit our business.
“And although we won’t actually see the turbines the way our walking customers will, we will suffer from horrendous disruption if they get the go-ahead.
“The concrete and the traffic and the ugly pylons will all be for what?
“For 25 years of an uncertain amount of electricity and for Alex Salmond’s personal political aspirations – I don’t often say this – but good on the park.”
At the Suie Hotel, Mike Welding told the ‘Strathy’ that his customers were horrified by the plan for a wind farm just on the other side of the hill which gave the hotel its name.
“Nobody we have spoken to has a good word to say for the plan, and obviously it will affect our business. Quite honestly, all the reaction we get is negative. People come here to walk the hills, and they don’t want to walk through windmills.”
At Brae Riach Guest House, by the Spey, Mrs Fiona Johnson said her guests had not been openly against the plan. But she added: “I think that’s because they are generally passing through, and the feeling is that they won’t be seeing the thing. Personally, I am totally against it, and I would certainly back the national park in blocking it.”
Mr and Mrs Bob MacLean from Michigan, USA, were on their annual visit to the Ossian Inn in Kincraig.
Mr MacLean said: “We have these things back home, and we come here to get away from them. They are not pretty and they are not quiet. We are serious walkers, and serious walkers like to get seriously away from the built-up world.
“Europe has some of the most wonderful places to do that, but how long is that going to be the case?
“There must be a better way to produce the energy we need, and our time would be better spent looking for it.”
The first of the turbines would be around five kilometres, as the crow flies, from Kincraig. It was made clear at the planning meeting that the turbines would be outside the national park boundary, although service roads and the cabling route would be inside.
Park officials said that some existing tracks would be used for access, but the impact of up to 16 kilometres of newly built tracks from the A9 would be significant. They said the effects of the wind farm would be felt to a large extent inside the park.
The Environmental Statement had identified a number of notable bird species in the area, including golden eagles, merlin, black grouse, golden plover and other wading birds.
Raptor Track has satellite-tagged several raptors in the area of the proposed wind farm, including three golden eagles and a peregrine falcon. The ES did state, however, that the risk of birds colliding with the turbines was felt to be insignificant.
After the meeting, park planning committee convener, Duncan Bryden, said they did not object to all wind farms near the park as a matter of course.
But he continued: “In this case – from the potential impact in protected species such as golden eagles; the detrimental effects on the landscape character of the area; people’s enjoyment of the national park and the potential negative impacts on tourism, I agree with the planning officer’s recommendation.
“We also need to take a serious look at the potential cumulative impact, with several wind farms around the park either already constructed, approved or in planning stages.”
Those travelling on the main road and rail routes in the strath would have little sight of the wind farm. It would just be visible from a small stretch of the A9 near Slochd and two short sections of the A938 at Duthill and Carrbridge, as well as the minor road between Auchlean and Feshiebridge.
RWE-N Power Renewables said they were “naturally disappointed” by the park’s decision not to support their application.
The site, in a west-facing bowl in the catchment area for the River Dulnain, had been carefully designed to minimise visibility.
A spokeswoman said: “Considerable effort has been taken throughout the wind farm layout design and Environmental Impact Assessment to produce a turbine layout which minimises landscape and visual effects.
“The turbines would not be visible from settlements in the Spey Valley or from the A9, and this was recognised by the park’s own landscape adviser.”
The final decision on the go-ahead for the Allt Duine windfarm rests with Scottish Ministers because of the scale of the renewable energy scheme.
Meanwhile, reports of a projected “breeze freeze” are emerging, with some weather experts warning Scottish ministers of a possible 40-year lull in wind power.
Official weather trends have shown that 13 of the last 16 months had been calmer than normal, with 2010 the century’s “stillest” year.
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