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Councillors clash over turbine-free ‘wild land’ zones

Marking out protected “wild land” in the Highlands – where new wind farms or other developments could be barred – has sparked a heated clash between councillors.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has drawn up a map setting out the remote terrain which should be protected against development in a national consultation but Highland Council warned it had gone too far.

SNH defended the map – which identified more than 40 per cent of the Highlands as core wild land – but the council’s planning department said the proposed core areas of wild land were too extreme and big.

The local authority agreed on Wednesday to lodge its submission to the consultation and called for a balance to be struck between the appropriate protection of the natural heritage and other objectives.

But it sparked anger from several councillors and Lochaber councillor Andrew Baxter claimed the move would allow wind farm developers to “rape and pillage” the region’s land. The SNP’s Bill Lobban broke ranks from the Nationalist/Liberal Democrat/Labour administration and claimed it had got its wild land response to SNH “seriously wrong”.

However, senior coalition councillors, including George Farlow, Thomas Prag and Jimmy Gray, insisted the proposed map would restrict future development in the Highlands.

Councillor Farlow, the vice-chairman of the authority’s planning, environment and development committee, blasted SNH’s proposed map and said the land was already managed by Highland estates.

He said the government organisation needed to “get a grip” and claimed it would not be in existence much longer.

“I think this is the last throes of an organisation that is at trouble with itself,” said the Sutherland councillor.

But senior Independent councillor Helen Carmichael said SNH had to be listened to as it was the expert on the land.

An SNH spokeswoman defended the map and dismissed Councillor Farlow’s claims about the quango’s future.

“We have no idea what he means,” she said.

“Scotland’s wild landscapes are highly valued by the people who live here, and they bring significant benefit to our local communities and the country as a whole. Many of the most extensive areas, with the strongest wild land character, can be found in the Highlands, and we will consider the views of the council carefully. We are very aware of our duty to take economic and other interests into account, along with wildlife and landscape interests, but it is for others to decide where the balance lies. How the map is used, and any policy that may come from it, is for ministers to consider.”

SNH has received around 400 responses and will make a recommendation to the government later this year.