Two controversial windfarm developments overlooking a number of famous mountain peaks in the Highlands will now go to public inquiries after councillors voted against them.
The Glenmorie scheme would see 34 massive turbines erected between Ardross and Ardgay in Ross-shire, while the Dalnessie plan near Lairg is for 27 turbines.
They amassed hundreds of objections, including from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS), but were recommended for approval by planning officials.
Members of Highland Council’s North Planning Planning Committee made site visits to each before meeting today to debate each proposal.
They unanimously agreed to object to the Glenmorie project, while a split 5-5 vote on the Dalnessie development was refused on the casting vote of chairwoman Isobel Campbell.
Both proposals will now require to go to public inquiries before being considered by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
MCoS chief David Gibson welcomed the stance by councillors, adding: “These are iconic parts of Scotland.
“If these applications go ahead it would signal an open house for massive industrial scale wind farms.
“Both developments are proposed in areas of tremendous landscape value vital to tourism economy.
“These parts of Scotland should be preserved for future generations.
“Now that both will go to public inquiries we will make every effort to present evident to ensure that these projects don’t proceed.”
SNP Councillor Maxine Smith led the call for both developments be refused permission, despite planning officials’ advice.
She said: “If approved, it would be like wind factories in the area.
“While I a supporter in principal of the Scottish Government’s renewables targets for 2020, wind farms should be in appropriate places.”
She said these two were not, adding that the Highlands was already “doing its bit” for renewables.
“There are over 41 windfarms currently operational or approved, and another 48 proposals in the process,” she said. “That amounts to 89 windfarms, with a total over 2,000 turbines or more.”
Mrs Smith said the proposals would affect nearby residents, the landscape, tourism and the economy.
The Glenmorie development, the committee heard, would be “intrusively visible” from Munro mountains such as Ben Wyvis, Beinn Dearg and those in the Fannichs.
Edinburgh-based Wind Energy (Glenmorie) had applied to the Scottish Government to build the turbines, each standing 410ft high. The committee unanimously backed refusal.
Meanwhile the vote was tighter for the proposal by SSE Renewables Developments, who had applied for a 27-turbine, 67.5megawatt farm at Dalnessie, near Lairg.
The casting vote went to the chairwoman who refused the application on the grounds of it conflicting with the Council’s Development Plan and the Scottish Government’s policy on wild land.
MCofS Chief Officer David Gibson said: “We are talking here about one of Scotland’s finest mountain areas which visitors from around the world associate with Scotland’s unique natural heritage.
“This situation clearly demonstrates why the Scottish Government must call a halt to wind farm developments in the mountains now, and agree a national spatial planning policy for the siting of wind farms.
“The importance of our mountain areas to tourism is not challenged by the government which has designated 2013 as the Year of
Natural Scotland: unless the development of wind farms in the mountains is halted now, 2014 may well be the year when the Lights are on but no-one is Homecoming.”
Planning officer Ken McCorquodale stated in his report on Glenmorie: “The application will have little impact on local properties and settlements.”
The report adds: “Representations that argue against investment in renewable energy can only be given limited weight given the very positive stance by the Scottish Government.”
Steve Hunter, Project Director for Glenmorie Wind Farm, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the committee today decided to raise an objection to this application.
“Over the past three years we have worked hard to address any concerns raised with us and have modified the design of the wind farm to reduce visibility from surrounding communities.
“If this wind farm is ultimately approved by the Scottish Government and goes ahead it will bring significant benefits to the local area in terms of investment in local businesses and will create jobs on- and off-site.
“We will also set up a community benefit fund to provide over £500,000 each year for local community projects, a total of over £12 million over the 25-year lifetime of the wind farm.”
He said the development and construction would contribute around £46m to the Scottish economy, or £29m if the turbines are not made in Scotland, £17m of which would go to the Highlands.
SSE Renewableswas also disappointed with the decision regarding Dalnessie.
Colin Nicol, director of Onshore Renewables, said: “This is a disappointing decision, especially given the recommendation by the planning officer to raise no objection to the project, which is carefully sited within the Highland Council area of search for wind energy development.
“The impact on SNH’s proposed Search Area for Wild Land was assessed through the project Environmental Impact Assessment which concluded that this area can accommodate the wind farm.
“Given that the proposal has attracted local community support, I am confident that further scrutiny will see the project for what it is – a sensitively sited wind farm which will bring multiple benefits to the local community and wider Highland region, including direct and in-direct employment, long-term support for community projects and a positive contribution to the local economy.
“The development would be a significant investment for SSE but, should it receive consent from Scottish Ministers, it will also be significant in its contribution to the Scottish Government’s target for renewables to meet 100% of electricity demand by 2020. We look forward to the decision by Scottish Ministers in due course.”
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