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Wind firm paid for minister’s hotel stay

Scotland’s Environment Secretary was treated to a luxury hotel stay by an energy company only months before it got the go-ahead for a controversial wind farm.

The news has sparked calls for Alex Salmond to launch an urgent investigation into the ‘conduct’ of his Cabinet colleague Richard Lochhead.

Mr Lochhead and his wife enjoyed dinner and accommodation at the f our- star Castle Hotel in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, on June 1 last year, courtesy of green energy firm RES Ltd.

According to the latest Holyrood register of members’ interests, the cost was estimated at £175.

Then, on August 1, the Scottish Government approved on appeal RES’s plan for a wind farm in Wigtownshire, despite strong local opposition.

The granting of approval for the 11-turbine Glenchamber scheme between New Luce, Kirkcowan and Glenluce, was described at the time as a ‘kick in the teeth’ for democracy by local Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson.

Dumfries and Galloway Council had earlier rejected the plan amid concerns over its ‘significant adverse impact’.

Last night, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: ‘Serious questions have to be asked about the conduct of Mr Lochhead.

‘The public will ask why a minister thought it appropriate to accept hospitality from a company with a planning application before the Scottish Government. What we need now is a thorough and transparent investigation to ensure t he planning application was dealt with in the proper manner.’

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: ‘For a minister to take hospitality like this is at the very least poor judgment and will do nothing to restore the public’s confidence in the political system.’

A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘ Richard Lochhead does not have ministerial responsibility for wind farm planning applications and played no role in determining the Glenchamber application.

‘On June 1, he opened a wind farm for RES at Hill of Towie in his [Moray] constituency in his capacity as local MSP.

‘He received hospitality at the hotel and this was declared in the members’ register of interests.’

A spokesman for RES said: ‘The accommodation was to assist Mr Lochhead’s onward travel the following day.

‘It was not in connection with the [Glenchamber] proposal.’