Councillors will embark on a bus trip in the New Year to assess the potential impact of a contentious wind farm plan which has attracted hundreds of objections.
And local residents will be given the chance to say which viewpoints the bus should stop at during the site visit of Glenmorie Wind Farm.
The north planning applications committee postponed a decision on the 34-turbone wind farm at its meeting in Inverness on Tuesday in favour of organising a visit to the location.
It came after objectors sent a flurry of e-mails to committee members on the eve of the meeting expressing their anger because no visit had been organised.
The committee chairman Councillor Isobel McCallum (Black Isle) suggested that a site visit be held in January before the debate began and it was unanimously supported by her colleagues,
Several councillors then called for local community councils, which are largely against the huge scheme, to be given an input into the day trip’s schedule, in particular the exact viewpoints from where the site should be examined.
Ardross, Edderton, Invergordon and Ardgay and District community councils are all opposed to the wind farm.
Many of the individual objectors are Ardross residents who claim they a disproportionate number of turbines in their area and will be “completely encircled” by these structures if this proposal is given the go-ahead.
Developer Glenmorie Wind Farm LLP wants to build the 125-metre high turbines, which is nine less than it had originally planned.
The development on the Kildermorie and Glencalvie estates had been recommended for approval by the local authority’s planning department and if the committee had rejected the scheme Scottish Ministers would have been obliged to hold a public inquiry.
The council received 121 objections to the project and just one letter of support.
The final say on the wind farm rests with the Scottish Government, which had received 209 objections and 32 in support.
Cromarty Firth councillor Carolyn Wilson said community councillors would be eager to advise the committee where the site should be viewed from and highlighted the Strathrusdale area near Ardross as being particularly important.
Fellow ward councillor Mike Finlayson asked Ken McCorquodale, the council’s principal planner, to liaise closely with all the community councils.
Sutherland councillor George Farlow admitted he was not always in favour of site visits but thought it was the best course of action.
“I think this is quite correct, given the views of the community councils and the over 100 objections,” he said.
Councillor Maxine Smith (Cromarty Firth) questioned the method of referring to statutory consultees like Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in the planning report because the agencies had initially objected to the development.
“I am not sure when the objections become non-objections,” said Councillor Smith, who also called for more information about the views from the John Muir Trust and the bird charity RSPB Scotland.
SNH had raised concerns about the impact on the Dornoch Firth but withdrew its objection because the number of turbines were cut.
Mr McCorquodale said the route plan for the visit on January 14, including the timings and viewpoints, would all be carefully worked out beforehand.
He said it was a normal practice to tap into the knowledge and expertise of planning officials and councillors about the local area to be visited, but community council contributions would also be considered.
“We have to make the trip fair, balanced and manageable,” he said.
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