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Controversial Caithness windfarm plans to be heard at public inquiry

Plans for a Caithness windfarm which received 260 objections will be decided by Scottish Government ministers after a local public inquiry.

Power giant E-on’s proposed Golticlay development, just north of Lybster, would have 19 turbines standing up to 426ft high.

Councillors formally objected to the plans in September, highlighting concerns about the negative impact on local osprey and rare wildcat populations, resulting in an inquiry.

A spokeswoman for E-on said the company is “disappointed” by the north planning committee’s view as they believe the site is a “suitable location for a windfarm.”

But Independent Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss, a former wildlife crime officer, said: “No one can accuse them (objectors) of being ‘nimbies’ because, frankly, nearly everyone has turbines.

“I think there has to be balance struck. Most reasonable people accept wind power has its place but, we are clearly wanting to attract people to come and live in the far north. As councillors, we are required to assess each windfarm on individual merits, but somewhere there is a tipping point.

“If we damage the natural environment we will eventually get to the point where our reputation starts to suffer. We have to be careful.”

Mr Reiss says he has asked Scottish Wildcat Action – a meber of Scottish Natural Heritage – to fund a wildcat survey at the site but was told Caithness is not a priority area.

He said the latest survey from last summer recorded no wildcats, but stressed this was done just after a loud digger was reported on the site, potentially scaring them off.

Mr Reiss said he was also told by a source they had spotted a wildcat there as recently as Tuesday night.

Studies by E-on have found osprey nests at the site and recorded their flight paths in the area – but the developers say they would relocate the rare birds to artificial nests.

Caithness-based Objector Stuart Young said the Scottish Government do not value community objections unless they specifically raise materials planning issues, referring to details of a government examination report of the council’s Highland-wide development plan.

He added: “The Scottish Government since it took power has systematically removed the rights of the people.”

But a Scottish Government spokesman said: “All material issues, including public representations, are carefully considered before the determination of any Section 36 wind farm application.

“Relevant material considerations, including those made by members of the public, will be considered by the inquiry.”