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Windfarm planning bosses urged to boot up to visit Highland site

Outdoor campaigners have criticised councillors who plan to make a site visit to a controversial windfarm site – by going to a railway more than 10 miles away.

The John Muir Trust urged Highland Council members to pull on their boots and walk on the actual site of the proposed Allt Duine windfarm in the Monadhliath Mountains.

The battle over the development, dubbed by opponents as a windfarm too far, is being seen as crucial test in the clash between the Scottish National Party Government’s renewable-energy policy and campaigners for the preservation of Scotland’s mountain wild lands.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland joined the JMT in urging councillors, who meet tomorrow, Tuesday, to decide the fate of RWE npower renewables’ application, to throw out the plans.

The Highland Council committee will take a trip to Cairn Gorm’s funicular railway to judge the visual impact of the proposals for the 31-turbine development just outside the boundary of the Cairngorms national park.

The John Muir Trust said: “In December the council’s planning committee decided to conduct a site visit before making a recommendation regarding the planned development.

“However, rather than go to the site itself, on Tuesday the councillors are travelling by coach to the Cairngorm funicular railway – more than ten miles away on the other side of the A9.

Steven Turnbull, policy officer for the John Muir Trust said: “The Allt Duine development will have an immense impact on a valuable area of wild land. It’s disappointing that the councillors will not even go to visit the area that will be affected by the turbines before making their recommendation.

“If the council thinks the site is too inaccessible it seems odd that RWE npower renewables should be allowed to consider building large tracks and 125m-high turbines in this remote and wild place.”

The trust said draft planning guidance by the council proposes that the Monadhliath Mountains should be protected from development. However, a number of applications are already in the planning system and one scheme, Dunmaglass, has been approved.

Mr Turnbull added: “The new guidance should improve things by steering development away from wild landscapes such as the Monadhliath Mountains, but it could be too late by the time it is implemented.”

MCofS president Brian Linington said: “Highland Councillors have an opportunity on Tuesday to demonstrate a long-sighted and enlightened approach to what is fast becoming a clash between the Scottish Government’s energy policy and the superb mountain landscapes for which Scotland is internationally famous.

“We call on them to show leadership to the rest of the nation and demonstrate that whilst we may need renewable energy we do not need it at any price. It is time to value what we have.”

And mountaineer, writer and former MCofS president Chris Townsend, who is a key member of the Save the Monadhliath Mountains group, said: “The SMM campaign group is hugely encouraged with the level of support we’ve received so far, but we want to send a very clear message to the councillors that has been a driving force behind the campaign since the very start: Allt Duine is a wind farm too far.”

A decision on the future of the proposed Allt Duine wind farm was unanimously postponed at the planning committee meeting on 20 December, after the Cairngorms National Park Authority lodged its concerns. SMM campaigners highlighted inconsistencies of the council’s planning officer’s report.

The SMM group said: “Perversely, the officer recommended an objection to the smaller scheme at Moy and none to the larger scheme at Allt Duine. Yet both have been criticised and recommended for objection by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, as both lie in locations that the council’s own policy advocates steering large, medium and small developments away from these areas.”

Mr Townsend added: “The Moy windfarm proposal has already gone to inquiry. All SMM campaigners are asking for is a level playing field.

“We believe that the only fair outcome is that both wind farms are considered by the same decision maker in a public inquiry. The only way that the council can guarantee this is by also objecting to Allt Duine for exactly the same single reason, namely in reliance on the draft spatial guidance that applies to Moy.

“Anything else would be grossly inconsistent and unjust.”

Highland Council’s planning committee will meet at its Inverness headquarters at 2.30pm tomorrow, Tuesday.