Hiring helicopters, a dog sled team and an off road vehicle – so councillors could head into the Monadhliath Mountains to inspect the location of a giant wind farm – have been suggested by rowing councillors.
Energy company SSE’s bid to build 83 wind turbines at Stronelairg above Loch Ness, which would be the biggest in the Highlands, stalled before the south planning applications committee today (Tuesday).
Councillors voted by nine votes to seven in favour of a site visit during heated exchanges.
Anti-wind farm campaigners prior to the meeting had claimed a visit to was essential but council planning officer David Baldwin said it would be very difficult to reach suitable vantage points because of the tough mountainous terrain.
Mr Baldwin, a keen hill walker himself who spent several days visiting the locations, presented 21 possible viewpoints but said only two offered satisfactory views.
“Most of these are on top of hills and I think the logistics to get up would be quite hard, particularly at this time of year,” he said.
The planning department had recommended the committee raise no objection if the 443-feet high turbines were cut to 67 and it will be ultimately be decided by Scottish Ministers.
Local councillor Margaret Davidson warned access to the viewpoints would be impossible until June because of snow in the area and Inverness South’s Thomas Prag said he was happy with the scheduled photographs and presentation from Mr Baldwin.
“I would like a site visit but I don’t see the point,” said Councillor Prag, who claimed the only way to get a proper view would be to hire a helicopter to drop off the committee “from hill to hill”.
But councillors Donnie Kerr and Dave Fallows said a trip was essential because of the wind farm’s potential impact on wild land.
Councillor Kerr (Inverness Central) was worried about the amount of roads which are planned and the potential impact on drainage and peatland.
“I suggest that we go on the site visit and take in all the locations that are necessary,” he said. “It is part of our job, if we have to go and do a site visit, let us get our hiking boots on and get there.”
Councillor Kerr joked that he had a friend in Ross-shire who had a dog sled team if it was required for the journey.
The committee chairman Jimmy Gray said the site visit had to be inclusive after concerns were raised that not all members may be physically fit enough to walk up the hills.
Lochaber councillor Thomas MacLennan, who has multiple sclerosis, rounded on Councillor Kerr’s hiking boots comment and asked whether he had a cure for his condition.
Councillor Fallows (Badenoch and Strathspey) said the committee had to get a feel for the qualities of the area’s wild land which overode the need to visit specific vantage points.
Councillor Davidson (Aird and Loch Ness) said she had visited the site several times but on an Argo cat, a vehicle designed to negotiate inaccessible mountainous areas which can “swim” in deep water.
“If you want to wait until June or climb up one of the hills I am up for it,” said the veteran councillor, who highlighted the potential impact on Fort Augustus particularly during the tourism season if the wind farm was built.
*The council hopes to organise the visit in the next couple of weeks so the application can be considered at next month’s committee meeting.
Councillors will head to Foyers, Fort Augustus, up into the hills near Stronelairg Lodge and onto Cairn A’Chuilin, which is less than a mile from the Glendoe Dam.