Plans for a single turbine in a remote Ross-shire community “struggling for survival” have whipped up a full-scale battle that has drawn almost 500 representations from across the country.
A leading light behind the Coigach Community Development Company (CCDC) proposals for a community-owned turbine at Achvraie at Achiltibuie yesterday claimed a campaign of “misinformation” fuelling a backlash from people “who know nothing about the area”.
The planning application to Highland Council by Coigach Wind Power has attracted 495 public representations both for and against.
The proposed structure, on a site north of the existing water treatment works, would have a 900kw output and a height of 77 metres and a blade diameter of 44 metres.
As a result of the high number of representations, it is now certain the application, which might otherwise have been decided by a planning officer through delegated powers, will be considered by a future meeting of the council’s planning committee.
While many support the scheme, seeing it as a necessary facility in a fragile and remote area, the high number opposing it are concerned about its visual impact and possible effect on local wildlife.
Last month Coigach Community Development Company (CCDC) unveiled its plan for the turbine to generate money to enable the area to turn around its economic fortunes.
The proposal was described as a “great milestone” for the local residents as money generated through the 20-year life of the turbine would go towards pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision.
Iain Muir, chairman of CCDC and a director of Coigach Wind Power, believes the high number of those fighting the plan is the result of a campaign mounted against it by a minority of local residents.
He told the Ross-shire Journal: “I believe a small number of local objectors have mounted a campaign against the turbine, including feeding misinformation to people who know nothing about our community.
“Almost without exception, the objections which have come in fail to acknowledge that this is a community scheme which is trying to sustain a community fighting for survival.
“They talk about ‘developers’ – but we are simply a community the vast majority of which voted tom support the plan.
“The objectors have also coralled in die-hard anti-wind farm protesters who are against wind farms in principle.
“It is also very difficult for us to take seriously people who say their holiday will be spoiled by our single turbine.
“We have even heard objections from as far away as Poolewe where one objector said it would affect his bed and breakfast business.
“Another complained that it could be seen from the top of An Teallach 22 kilometres away at a location which gives a 360-degree round view totalling 270 kilometres.
“What none of these people address is the fact that the community in Coigach is declining.
“Some years ago Summer Isles Foods, which was by far the biggest employer in the area, moved to Alness.
“Now one of the two stores in the area has closed down and the school roll is continuing to decline. There are now only 13 kids attending where only a few years ago there were 30 and it has been downgraded to single-teacher status.”
Many of the comments from supporters describe their admiration for a community struggling to make ends meet in difficult times.
Those from the objectors make plain the strength of feeling and high value placed by many throughout the country for the unspoiled beauty of the area.
A Mrs Collette Mackenzie says in her submission: “I am in support of the proposed wind turbine. I live and work in the area and have three children who may also want to be able to live here and make a living (a proper living).
“The wind turbine project aims to produce an income which could help generate jobs and affordable housing, which could help our young people stay in the area if they choose to do so. It may also encourage other families to move into, or back to, the area.”
Mrs Barbara Chuke comments: “Every weekend I stay near Laide. This would be easily visible from there and it would look horrendous and ruin the still quietness the area has, as well as the powerful feeling of nature being the dominant force in the area.”
Mr Peter Cutforth says: “I support this application. I have been a regular visitor to walk in the Highlands for over 30 years.
“I have…no doubt that had the proposed turbine already been in position when I walked along the road past the site, it would not have spoiled my enjoyment of the views and the peaceful atmosphere at all.
“This proposal will not reduce my desire to return again. I support and applaud this initiative of the local community.”
One opposed is a Mr Timothy St John Ogilvie Carlisle, who comments: “It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it is so because of its inherent nature … The turbine would adversely affect the integrity of the area and disturb the quality for which it has been protected.”
A council spokesman said: “The application has aroused considerable public interest with representations having been submitted both for and against the proposal in similar numbers and continue to be received.
“We have undertaken consultation with all appropriate statutory consultees.
“The views of the statutory consultees along with those of the public will be taken into consideration in the assessment of the application along with all other material planning considerations.
“Until we have had an opportunity to fully consider all the issues raised we will not be in a position to advise as to how or when the decision on the application will be made.”
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