The owner of a five-star tourism business in an isolated Wester Ross peninsula has launched a scathing attack on plans to build a community-owned wind turbine which he says is an “absolute violation” of the landscape.
This week the Coigach Community Development Company (CCDC) unveiled their plans for a 77m turbine at Achvraie, Achiltibuie to generate money to enable the area to turn around its economic fortunes.
CCDC says the application for planning permission is a “great milestone” for the community and money generated through the 20-year life of the turbine will go towards pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision.
However, Reiner Luyken, who runs the Brochs of Coigach – a self-catering business which is a finalist in this year’s Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards – is strongly against the plans and says he is not the only one.
The majority of the six public comments posted so far on Highland Council’s ePlanning service are in favour of the development.
CCDC was established in 2010 by residents to address issues of sustainability in Achiltibuie. It established Coigach Wind Power Ltd to manage the community turbine project.
Iain Muir, chairman of CCDC, said: “Like many remote and fragile communities on the west coast, Achiltibuie has been hit disproportionately hard by the downturn in the economy. This has come on top of difficulties we are already facing – the loss of local jobs, few young families and less to attract tourists.
“Despite this, Achiltibuie and the other villages in Coigach are a tremendous community and we want to keep it as a great place to live, work and play but we need a dependable income to do something about our underlying infrastructure problems – in particular a lack of affordable housing, crumbling and inadequate piers for our fishing fleet and no workshop space to encourage new businesses.”
However, Mr Luyken said CCDC’s argument that Achiltibuie is a community in decline was “utter rubbish”.
He said in the Scottish Government’s index of deprivation of over 6,700 neighbourhoods, the area was graded as the seventh most remote place in Scotland but was actually in the top third of least deprived areas in the country.
Mr Luyken said he has invested £750,000 in his business and tourism is one of the mainstays of the local economy because the landscape attracts visitors.
He said: “My feeling is that this is an absolute violation of a landscape which should be kept turbine-free. There are very few places that are now free of wind turbines.”
He went on: “There will be strong objections coming in from at least 20 people that we are aware of, locally and from as far away as the US. These are people who are incensed about the visual impact the turbine will have on an area they know and cherish and come to see many times.”
Mr Luyken described CCDC as “divisive” in the community and said it was a group which was very much trying to push its own agenda through.
He added there was also unhappiness amongst the main crofting tenants who feel their rights as shareholders of the common grazing where the turbine will be located are being pushed aside.
“There is a split between CCDC and the crofters, a split between CCDC and the people who have invested in tourism and there is a split between CCDC and people who don’t want the beauty of the place and the unique scenery messed up,” he said.
Community volunteers in Achiltibuie erected a 50m wind monitoring mast at the proposed turbine site behind the village in October last year.
Coigach Wind Power chairman Alison Sinclair, said; “This is a great milestone for the community who voted strongly in favour of the turbine in a ballot held by our community council. I predict the wind turbine, together with a small hydro scheme we’re working on, will give the community the income to fulfil so many of its ambitions. We’re hoping for planning approval soon and are looking forward now to the next stage in the project.”
One local supporting the scheme, Uilleam Fraser, sent a comment via ePlanning which said: “I feel that the community wind turbine will be an asset to Coigach and the people that live there by providing an income stream to invest for the future health of the community.”
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