Jubliant campaigners were celebrating last night after Moray Council gave a resounding “no” to plans for a towering windfarm on a prominent hillside.
The planning committee rejected the controversial proposals for the Brown Muir site, near Elgin, after council officials said the visual impact of the scheme would be “unacceptable and contrary to planning policy”.
Anti-windfarm protesters said they were delighted by the decision, but the move has triggered a public inquiry that could cost tens of thousands of pounds.
The council’s objection will be lodged with the Scottish Government, which is the deciding body for the scheme.
Last night, council leader Allan Wright said the verdict would hit taxpayers in the pocket but the local authority was compelled to represent the views of the thousands of local people who objected.
He added: “I have suggested before that this council should begin to consider at least taking a stance that says we will pass no opinion on windfarm applications that are going before the Scottish Government –but today I was conscious that we were talking about the views of more than 2,000 objectors.”
Developer Vento Ludens says the layout of its 19 turbines on a landmark hill three miles from Rothes is “an excellent project” that has been “meticulously designed” and conforms to considerations of landscape quality, rural diversification and tourism policy. The company said every possible effort had been made to minimise the impact on the natural environment, while ensuring the wind resource was harnessed to maximum effect. The turbines and on-site infrastructure had been carefully positioned to protect animal habitats, it said.
However, the application has proved to be one of the most contentious issues in recent times, according to members of the planning and regulatory services committee.
Labour councillor John Divers, who represents Elgin City South, acknowledged that the scheme had attracted 10 favourable representations but said he had met only one person who thought it was a good idea.
“In Elgin, I have not even come across one person who was in favour of it,” he said. “I think it is a good idea to challenge this.”
This view was echoed by fellow ward councillor and SNP member Graham Leadbitter, who said people were vehemently opposed to the project on the grounds of visual impact.
Committee chairman Douglas Ross said the issue was “one that I have been contacted about more than any other”.
He told the committee yesterday: “I move that we object. Our grounds have been made very well on the visual impact. The property is located outwith our search area. It does not have regard to the importance of the hill, does not follow an established pattern which says important windfarms are supposed to be set back.
“It would be prominent and detract from the landscape and character – 360 degrees around Brown Muir will be affected by this.”
The councillors’ decision to oppose the scheme was unanimous.
Speyside SNP councillor Mike McConachie raised concerns about the cost of a public inquiry, saying it would be “a six-figure sum”, according to some estimates.
However, speaking after the meeting, Mr Wright said he suspected the fees would be “tens of thousands of pounds”.
The scheme had also failed to find support from Elgin or Innes community councils. Elgin Community Council member Jim Wiseman said Brown Muir hill was as important to the character of Elgin as the backcloth to a play.
He also rejected Vento Ludens’s promises of jobs as “unrealistic”.
David McKay, chairman of Innes Community Council, said he was “delighted” the council had rejected the proposal.
He added: “We have always been opposed to this scheme and we are delighted that Moray Council came to this decision. We support it in full.”
Retired civil servant Dick Hewitt, whose home is at Drummond Cottage, Cummingston, was among almost 60 members of the Cummingston Residents Action Group who lodged objections last year to plans by Strathdee Properties for three wind turbines near his home.
He said he was pleased the council had rejected the scheme but was sceptical that it would alter the course of events.
Mr Hewitt, 67, said: “I am sorry to say but I don’t think the council’s decision means tuppence now because, whether we like it or not, this is political and Alex Salmond and his party will just go ahead and approve it anyway.”
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