A veteran Ross-shire councillor who chairs a planning committee which rejected a scheme for three large wind turbines has been accused of bias after she kicked off a debate by saying local people did not want it.
A row was sparked about the controversial development near Cromarty after Isobel McCallum criticised its potential impact and claimed the turbines, at almost 70-metres high, would be “in the faces” of residents.
Cromarty Community Council organised a consultation which concluded that 57 people living in 72 local households were opposed to its construction.
Councillor McCallum, who leads Highland Council’s north planning applications committee, said it demonstrated the strength of local feeling, particularly of those living in the small settlement of Davidston close to the site.
“I believe that these turbines are not in the right location,” said the Black Isle councillor. “The view of the community is quite clear in their representations to the questionnaire organised by the community council.”
She warned the turbines could also affect Cromarty’s status as a popular tourist destination which was often referred to as the “jewel in the crown” of the Highlands.
But her remarks were seized upon by committee member Councillor Bill Fernie who accused the chairwoman of “setting the wrong tone” and said the figures could be interpreted different ways.
“I also think you were biased because you introduced the statistics from the community council,” he said. “For example, you were taking the majority but I could also say that 61 per cent of the households didn’t respond. You have a biased view of the statistics.”
The Caithness councillor said the figures were “almost meaningless” because of the way they had been based on households.
Councillor Fernie added that the turbines, planned by developer Bright Spark Energy Ltd at Davidston Farm, would have been seen from practically everywhere because of their height.
The council’s planners had recommended approval because their impact was “negligible” from a distance and “not significant” locally.
But the committee was split and Ross-shire councillors Biz Campbell and Margaret Paterson both backed the chairwoman.
“It is unfortunate that as chairwoman you have been left alone here today,” said Councillor Campbell. “I thought we had individual thinking, but never mind.”
But committee members George Sutherland and Angela MacLean shot back and said there were no valid planning reasons for objecting to the scheme, which had been reduced from five turbines.
Councillor McCallum lodged a motion that the turbines would be an unacceptable impact on the natural environment including the landscape and character and the Davidston residents, which won by seven votes to five.
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