Mountaineers have called on Scotland’s new First Minister to show some leadership and reject two windfarm proposals in Sutherland.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland urged Nicola Sturgeon to ensure her government lives up to its promises.
Both the proposed Glencassley and Sallachy developments are in area formally recognised as wild lands by Scottish Natural Heritage. The Scottish Government this year declared such areas should be better protected from development.
The windfarms, Loch Shin and Ben Assynt in Sutherland, would have 45 turbines, each at least 125m (410ft) tall, with concrete buildings and 33km (21 miles) of wide access tracks for large goods vehicles.
The MCofS said it is now up to ministers to decide whether or not they go ahead.
Chief officer David Gibson said: “In recent days the new First Minister has been outlining how she intends to govern in Scotland.
“We would warmly welcome a pledge that she will insist on ministers living up to the spirit of the Scottish Government’s new planning framework and protect our rapidly vanishing wild lands from industrialisation.
“Scotland is already well on course to meet its renewables targets and there is no need for windfarms such as Glencassley and Sallachy which threaten to do so much harm to our natural heritage.
“Windfarms alone are now claimed to be producing more than enough electricity for all Scottish homes. Indeed, Lang Banks, director of the environmental group WWF Scotland, was reported by the BBC as saying that wind turbines in Scotland have been generating 126 per cent of the electricity needs of every home north of the border.
“Our wild and empty spaces are what make the Scottish countryside special. They are fantastic places for Scots to enjoy for leisure sport and tourism. They are also the reason we attract so many tourists – people who will go elsewhere if they are ruined.
“If we really want to create sustainable new businesses and jobs in fragile communities and if we are serious about promoting tourism and encouraging healthier lifestyles then we must have the vision to protect our environment and ensure it is available for the wellbeing of all.”
SSE Renewables’ Glencassley scheme involves 23 turbines near Rosehall, while WKN Sallachy Ltd’s plans comprise 22 near Loch Shin.
A spokesman for Sallachy developers WKN said: “In November 2014, Highland Council reaffirmed its support for Sallachy Wind Farm after it unanimously approved the recommendation that there should be no change in response from Highland Council to the Scottish Government in light of the new Scottish Planning Policy.
“In relation to wild land, the new SPP does not designate wild land but instead allows it to be considered alongside all other material planning considerations.
“The new SPP retains the flexibility for the planning authority – in this case Highland Council and the Scottish Government – to judge each application on its own merits and to come to a final view based on the economic and social benefits of the project.
“Highland Council has reaffirmed its position in light of the new SPP and the project will go back to the ECDU [Energy Consents and Deployment Unit] for a decision.”
The company said it has signed an innovative and ground-breaking community benefit scheme with Lairg Community Council, Creich Community Council, and Ardgay & District Community Council. The community benefit fund, worth £8.5m, exceeds the Highland Council’s recommended levels for a community benefit scheme over a 25 year period, it added.
In October 2012, WKN signed a memorandum of understanding with Energy North and North Highland College’s Environmental Research Institute to create a supply side incubator initiative and a graduate training scheme.
Oliver Patent, head of development UK, said: “We welcome the support of the local communities for Sallachy Wind Farm and believe it is vital that the view of the communities who live in Sutherland are heard.
“SPP explicitly supports sustainable development and we feel that our scheme has the potential to do exactly that by improving the social and economic environment of the community.
“Sallachy represents an inward investment of over £100m and we have a partnership with Energy North to ensure local and Highland based contractors supply the various works for construction of the wind farm. We have also signed a partnership with the local college to ensure apprenticeships for local young people to benefit from the wind farm.”
The decision on the proposals could prove a test case on whether the Scottish Government will respect its own planning guidelines.
There have been large numbers of objections to both applications, including from respected conservation bodies. The John Muir Trust has said that approval for the wind farms would mean the wild land area maps would be rendered worthless.
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