Ramblers campaigning against plans to build hundreds of wind turbines around Loch Ness have warned steps must be taken now to stop Scotland’s £4 billion tourist industry from being wrecked.
They have called on ministers to impose a 165ft height limit on windfarm development in the Highlands and for them only to allow small-scale community developments onshore.
Loch Ness could soon have more than 200 turbines built above its shoreline if a series of different developments all proceed. This would exceed Europe’s current biggest windfarm at Whitelee near Glasgow, which has has 140 turbines.
SSE Renewables is consulting on plans for 130 turbines on moorland at Balmacaan, near Invermoriston on the west side of the loch, with turbines around 445ft high. It would be near one existing 26-turbine farm while another 25-unit farm is proposed nearby.
SSE is also looking at another site at the southern end of the loch at Stronelairg, south and east of its Glendoe hydro-electric scheme near Fort Augustus.
There are others planned not too far from the other end of the loch: a 40-turbine windfarm at Farr already working; approval given for 33 units at Dunmaglass in Strathnairn; and 26 turbines near Tomatin are due to be considered by the Scottish Government at a hearing in Carrbridge next month.
Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: “If you carry on putting these turbines up round the loch, suddenly there will come a point when people will say ‘don’t bother going to the Loch Ness area because it has been industrialised’.
“It is just a matter of time till news of this gets out on the internet and people like Planet Earth start writing that everything has changed in Scotland. The landscape is not the same. Then the tourist industry will dive-bomb.”
He was alarmed that in the UK Government’s White Paper this week on energy policy, there was no mention of how it relates to tourism policy. “All they do is talk about a designation here and a designation there. They say there can’t be any development in certain areas such as national parks, but everywhere else is up for grabs,” he said.
He said there were huge tracts of the sea where there could be massive development without any real impact. “There should be clear divide so the big turbines go offshore and on land we focus on community, farm and croft developments with turbines of under 50 metres.
“Coupled with that we should have Scottish MPs persuading the Coalition Government in Westminster to completely modify the financial incentives so the money goes offshore, while onshore communities round Scotland benefit.”
However, Willie Cameron, director of Loch Ness Marketing and a long-time campaigner for the loch to be considered as a World Heritage Site, is relaxed about the developments. He said renewable energy was a new industry which could make a huge contribution to the Highland economy and create many jobs. He said: “If anything I think it could have a positive impact on tourism.”
SSE Renewables said it was in the early stages of assessing whether the site north of Invermoriston would be suitable. A spokeswoman said there would be a public consultation which, among other issues, would address the cumulative impact of the proposed developments.
She said the company had held public exhibitions at the end of March in Fort Augustus and Glenurquhart to engage with the local community on this proposal.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We believe that, with careful planning, tourism and sustainable energy production can co-exist in our countryside.”
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