November 2, 2012

Turbine proposal creating a storm on island

David Ross, Highland Correspondent | The Herald | 2 November 2012 |

What would Katie Morag have made of it?

A wind turbine higher than Edinburgh’s Scott Monument towering over her beloved island.

Would Grannie Island have backed the 250ft structure? But this isn’t the Struay of Mairi Hedderwick’s imagination, rather it is Coll, which inspired her to write her globally acclaimed Katie Morag books. Islanders are now faced with a plot line that concerns them.

By a narrow vote, Argyll and Bute councillors have approved the building of the giant wind turbine for local landowner and businessman Neil Smith.

There are already a dozen far smaller turbines. But islanders say as it will be on a rocky outcrop the new one will be almost as high as the 341ft Ben Hogh, Coll’s highest point, and will dominate the landscape of the low lying island and destroy the first view as people arrive.

While Mr Smith does have support on the island, and the community council remains neutral, the councillors heard from the Protecting Coll Group, which says it represents 102 of the houseowners on Coll where the Electoral Roll is just 137

The group’s spokesman Colin Scott spent 40 years as a rural land agent dealing with land and estate management including major environmental projects. He has lived on Coll for the last four years.

He said councillors had to think of the view visitors arriving by ferry from Oban got of the island which shaped their first impressions as they approached Arinagour. He said: “The ferry crosses the sea of the Inner Hebrides approaching the low horizon and flat landscape of the Isle of Coll that sits like a fish in the sea beyond. The essential character for all to see is that of a flat island, swept by wind, and marked by its horizontal nature. It has had that character for all of history.”

He warned the turbine would change that utterly. It would be visible above Arinagour “thereby at a stroke removing the captivating first impressions of the island for the first time visitor and the person returning home alike”.

He added: “The turbine blades will appear above the village-scape, inserting jarring incongruity into the view.”

He said the suggestion in the council’s planning report that the effect would be “negligible”, defied commonsense.

Another islander, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “We would love to mount a legal challenge, but we won’t have the money. We would love to speak out, but are nervous.”

But Angus Kennedy, whose family have lived on Coll for generations said he had no fear for the value of his property or the integrity of the site or the wildlife.

He said he had spoken to visitors and tourists to the island and was not worried people would stop visiting.

Mr Smith told The Herald the idea had started as a community project in 2008, but at that time there wasn’t sufficient capacity on the grid. He added: “By the time there was capacity in 2010 the community was completely involved in fundraising and management to build a new community hall. So there was no appetite for a wind turbine.”

He had pursued the project, originally for two turbines, before one was dropped.

He added: “But we have made an offer to the community that if they can get planning permission we would give them the land free to build their own turbine and cover all their costs out of our turbine’s profits up to the planning stage.”

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