Controversial plans for a wind farm near Loch Ness will be decided on appeal by the Scottish Government after Highland Council ran out of time to determine the application.
Plans to site 10 turbines on Blairmore Estate near Kiltarlity were submitted in October by Druim Ba Sustainable Energy (DBSE), which previously applied for 23 turbines at the site.
The original plans were refused by the Scottish Government in 2013 following a high-profile opposition campaign.
Under planning regulations, the revised application should have been determined by the council within four months but when it failed do so, the company – part of the French global conglomerate Louis Dreyfus Group – exercised its right to appeal to Scottish ministers.
The application has attracted 379 objections from individuals and organisations including Kiltarlity, Glenurquhart, Kilmorack and Inverness West cCommunity cCouncils and the Forestry Commission Scotland. There were 32 representations of support.
A council spokeswoman conceded the local authority had run out of time to determine the proposal.
“The application required robust assessment and there was considerable third party interest which resulted in a number of submissions that needed to be processed,” she said.
Anti-wind farm campaigner Lyndsey Ward said it reflected the pressure of work facing council staff who were “swamped”.
“This has not been determined in time because of resources at Highland Council,” she said. “They are still swamped and overwhelmed even with the fallback in wind farm subsidies.”
She claimed large-scale developers were more likely to submit speculative proposals for wind farms in Scotland because the planning application fees were much lower than in England.
“The developers are taking advantage – they think it is worth a punt,” she said, “We know developers routinely go to appeal.”
She said local authorities, including Highland Council, had limited budgets to allocate on planning appeals of all kinds – not just those relating to wind farms.
“It is difficult for the council to refuse anything having no money in the pot,” she said. “They have their hands tied behind their back.”
She claimed the Druim Ba appeal the first time around had cost Highland Council £67,000 although its entire budget for appeals and public inquiries was £50,000.
The revised application, seeking permission for 10 turbines up to 126 metres high, follows a radical review by DBSE in a bid to address the reasons for refusal of the previous application.
The company said the reporter’s findings and the minister’s decision formed a relevant part of the planning history of the site and was, therefore, a material consideration in the determination of this appeal.
It cites comments by the reporter who said the proposal would make a significant contribution to achieving the Scottish Government’s energy policies and found there was no objection in principle to an appropriately-designed wind farm at that location.
“An inevitable consequence of any wind farm development is some environmental impacts,” the reporter said. “The key issue is whether the design of the proposal ensures acceptable environmental impacts.”
The reporter allocated to the latest appeal is Michael Shiel with May 18 being the target date for a decision.
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