Campaigners have been left furious after MSPs rejected their bid to stop huge windfarm developments encircling iconic Loch Ness.
Activists have been battling to protect the Great Glen from the spectre of hundreds of turbines amid fears they will destroy the scenery and drive away tourists.
But their hopes of stemming the flood of windfarm schemes were dashed by members of Holyrood’s public petitions committee yesterday.
Committee member Kenny MacAskill told the Scottish Parliament the situation was “not as has been reported” and that Highland Council was “on the case”.
Campaigners, who had pressed for the area to be awarded World Heritage status, have criticised the MSPs who “dismissed” their concerns – and vowed their battle is “far from over”.
Jim Treasurer, who has been spearheading up the fight on behalf of the Friends of the Great Glen, said he was outraged at the “not very democratic” decision.
He said: “Highland Council had simply responded to the petition and they seemed happy with that.
“There was no discussion and no proper reason given for their decision. The whole thing seemed not very democratic.”
Lyndsey Ward, a member of the Friends of the Great Glen, agreed.
She said: “They have got their heads stuck in the sand, their fingers in their ears and they just don’t want to hear the objections of the local community.
“People have been begging the Scottish Government to take care of our natural landscape, but they just speak for the wind industry.
“Of course, we’ll be looking closely at the appeals process and hopefully can take the matter further.”
The Friends of the Great Glen argue the proliferation of major windfarms around Loch Ness will “degrade and destroy the spectacular landscape and beauty” of one of Scotland’s national treasures.
The area has become a major battleground in the fierce debate about the potential impact of turbines on the north’s vital tourism industry.
Organisations including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and local group Stop Turbines At Glenurquhart claim there is indisputable evidence that tourists will turn their backs on the region because of windfarms, although Energy and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing has disputed this.
Mr Treasurer, who is “definitely” going to appeal the decision, believes members of the public petitions committee have not properly considered the scale of the potential windfarm development at the site.
He said the Scottish Natural Heritage map he provided showed all turbines which are being proposed – totalling more than 500 – while the Highland Council map only included those built, under construction or approved.
The MSPs sitting on the public petitions committee rejected these arguments yesterday.
Mr MacAskill said: “The local authority is on the case. It seems it is not as has been reported.
“The campaigners have made their point but most of it seems to have been taken on board.”
Following the MSPs’ decision, Mrs Ward fears tourists could shun the area.
She said: “It is going to be too late now. People are going to be absolutely amazed.
“When tourists think of Scotland they will most often think of Loch Ness. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
“We could have had Scottish Natural Heritage designate the area, but we are not going to get that anymore.
“It is not just the turbines themselves – it is the access tracks, the substations, the tonnes of infrastructure that goes with it. It is a terrible mess.”
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