Constructing a wind farm beside the UK’s biggest national park would be like “building a Tesco in the Grand Canyon”, conservationists have warned.
Chris Townsend, author, photographer and former president of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, voiced growing concerns over plans to construct a 31-turbine wind farm next to the Cairngorms National Park.
A public inquiry into the Allt Duine development is due to start on Monday after German energy firm RWE npower appealed a decision earlier this year by Highland Council to reject the scheme.
Campaigners fear that if the original ruling is overturned it will pave the way for a host of other wind farms also being planned around the park.
Mr Townsend, who will give evidence at the inquiry, said: “This scheme is one of eleven wind farms planned for construction near or on the edge of the national park.
“If RWE are granted permission, the repercussions for wild land and the Scottish landscape in general will be devastating …
“Once we have a wind farm on the boundary of a national park, what next? This is the equivalent of building a Tesco in the Grand Canyon – you just wouldn’t dream of it.”
Mountaineer and presenter on Scottish outdoors TV programme, The Adventure Show, Cameron McNeish, outlined campaigners’ hopes ahead of the start of the inquiry.
He said: “What we hope the inquiry will recognise is that to build this wind farm would be to sacrifice one of the greatest things our country has to offer – our heritage – solely to meet the demands of multi-national firms and land owners. We need to prioritise this area and protect the mountains that provide many of its residents’ livelihoods.”
The controversial Allt Duine wind farm proposal is located less than 1km from the park boundary and would include 7.5km of access tracks within the park itself.
It would generate electricity for around 52,000 homes, but was rejected by the council amidst widespread opposition including concerns that the turbines would be highly visible from within the park. Opponents believe the wind farm would be significantly detrimental to the mountainous landscape.
Campaigners also fear that while the wind farm will create six new jobs it will result in the loss of far more in the tourism sector, upon which the area relies heavily.
But developer RWE npower defended the plan, saying it was located in Highland Council’s preferred “area of search” for wind farms, and would be hidden from view by a ridgeline which forms the park boundary.
Jenny Gascoigne, RWE npower development manager for Scotland, said: “There is no evidence that there would be any detrimental impact on tourism resulting from the wind farm.
“We do not believe the Allt Duine wind farm would conflict with the aims of the Cairngorms National Park, indeed it would help to promote sustainable use of the area’s natural resources and promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.”
A spokeswoman added that, contrary to previous reports,
the wind farm would be 900m and not 400m from the park boundary, a figure she said had been wrongly reported in the past.
The two-week long public inquiry will be held at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort hotel.