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Highland councillors clash over wind farm site visits

The merits of carrying out site visits for new wind farms has been questioned by Highland councillors who have declared the trips a waste of time and money.

Members of the local authority clashed during a debate on the practice which sees planning committees regularly travel to the proposed locations so they can view for themselves how the turbines may affect a landscape or communities if they are built.

The region’s wind farm boom in recent years has increased the number of trips which are often arranged after heavy pressure from protestors and communities who want huge renewable developments to be assessed on the ground.

Councillors visited the planned 34-turbine Glenmorie wind farm in Sutherland on Monday and will return to the same county next month to do the same for the 27-turbine Dalnessie scheme.

However, councillor Bill Fernie said the trips served little purpose but wasted cash and called for a review of the practice.

He told the north planning committee in Inverness on Tuesday that most councillors already knew the areas well enough beforehand and technology like Google Earth could be used to inspect sites without the need for lengthy travel.

“I think we should discuss at some stage whether we should be doing these site visits,” said the Wick councillor.

“We should be looking to cut down the cost of these trips, they are taking all day, it is a lot of money.”

Buses are hired by the council and food provided for the members and officials who go on the site visits.

Veteran councillor Drew Millar (Skye) said he had gone out on numerous site visits but learned little because once the turbines were built the landscape often looked nothing like it had.

“You really need the wind farms up there,” said Councillor Millar, who added Google Earth provided excellent displays which could avoid “going round the Highlands looking at bare hills and trying to imagine what it would look like after with wind turbines.”

But long-serving Ross-shire councillor Margaret Paterson attacked her colleagues’ views and insisted the trips helped visualise the scheme far better.

“I would completely disagree,” she said. “What price democracy? I think they are invaluable.”

Far North councillor Donnie Mackay said wind farms were a huge talking point in the Highlands and site visits were a vital practice.

Senior planning official David Mudie said most Scottish councils often debated wind farm applications but could not say how often site visits were held.

He added the planning department tried to restrict the number of schemes which were forwarded to the planning committees – which decide on whether site visits should be carried out – but it was often unavoidable.