The Highland Council’s North Area Planning committee, when it meets on Tuesday, is recommended to make no objection to a proposed 22-turbine wind farm at Altnaharra.
But The John Muir Trust has urged the local authority to reject the recommendation of its planning officer and lodge an objection to the development at Creag Riabhach.
They say the proposal would be partially located within an official Wild Land Area at Altnaharra, with a visual impact extending to a further three Wild Land Areas
Objections to the scheme straddle government agencies, environmental charities and outdoor groups including SNH, Visit Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
But Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council support the development, while Tongue, Durness and Kinlochbervie community councils have “no objection”.
SNH has stated that the development would “significantly and adversely affect wild land” while Visit Scotland has expressed concern over the potential negative impact on tourism.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is alarmed at the impact on blanket bog, and on the government’s own climate change targets, while the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has pointed to the visual disfigurement of a key mountain landscape, which includes a number of popular Munros and Corbetts, such as Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope.
Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the John Muir Trust said: “Given the breadth of opposition from expert bodies, it would be negligent of Highland Council to allow this application to proceed without the scrutiny of a Public Local Inquiry.
“In our judgement, the planning officer’s report fails to address the wide range of negative impacts that this development would have on wild land, peatland and tourism. Nor does the decision reflect Scottish Government planning policy brought in last year, which gives greater protection to Wild Land Areas. Highland Council needs to urgently review its planning policy and assessments urgently.
“The planning officer’s recommendation also appears to fly in the face of three recent decisions by Scottish Government ministers, refusing consent to wind farms in other wild land areas in the Highlands.
“The North Planning Applications committee is to be congratulated for making the correct call in the past by objecting to four applications (Dunbeath, Glenmorie, Beinn Mhor and Limekiln) against the recommendation of its planning officer. All four schemes were later refused by the Scottish Government, vindicating the decision of the councillors.
“In the interests of consistency, accountability and transparency, we would urge the North Planning Applications Committee of Highland Council to object to this application in order that it receives the rigorous scrutiny it deserves.”