Highland Council has given planning permission to a £20 million wind farm near Lairg despite it already dividing the community into those for and against the development.
The 10 turbine project is to be located on land south east of Cracrail, Toroboll, and represents what has been described as“a significant investment in Scotland of £19.6 million.”
But the 26 comments supplied to the planning application were split down the middle with 11 against the idea mostly on the grounds that seven of the turbines were too high for the area at 180 metres – the remaining three are 150 metres.
The 12 who wrote in support, aside from the one who was neutral, found that the reduction in the number of turbines was satisfactory while the possibility of investment in the local area was attractive.
The investment could prove significant with an annual expenditure of £1.4 million for each year during the 25 years of operation for the local economy which would include business rates and a contribution to public finance expenditure over its lifetime.
According to the developer Energiekontor would also contribute £6.5 million creating 48 jobs in the Highlands during the construction phase and £19.6 million and 143 jobs in Scotland overall.
In each year of the operation and maintenance there would be an outlay of £1.04 million, creating nine jobs in Highland and £1.4 million with 12 jobs Scotland-wide.
Some of the wider benefits are considered to be the shared ownership opportunity for the local community and non-domestic rates estimated at £345,000 per year – the equivalent of £8.5 million over its quarter century lifespan.
The local councillor for the area Kirsteen Currie sympathised with those who did not want to see the turbines go up but said given the timing with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic the investment would do more good than harm for the locals.
“While I totally appreciate that there are some members of the community who are concerned that there is a kind of industrialisation process going on around about Lairg I think as elected members we have to have a balanced view on all the decisions.
“The reality of the situation is that the energy being produced there is very clean energy, obviously the construction process is detrimental to the environment but the impact of it is very positive for the community and for our ongoing energy consumption.
“I know that the community councils for example will benefit from and have access to funding at a time when we are looking at five years of recovery work and trying to grow and expand our rural economy after that.
“So any investment that we can get into the area if it is positive should be seen as a good thing and in my mind the economic impact of this is a good thing and it is good for the community.
“I appreciate there are a lot of people commenting on it and objecting to it – some of which are ideological and some of which are material planning concerns – and I have taken them carefully into consideration.
“I don’t blanket agree with every single wind farm that goes but for me this one is in the right place and will be of benefit to the community and it will not be there forever, we need the energy.
“Sutherland has the worst fuel poverty in the whole of the UK and we produce more electricity than we use and to me that is an absolute disgrace of the highest order and I cannot wait for the days when our communities can really benefit from enterprises such as this as opposed to paying more for producing more.”
Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner believes that given the terrain the visual impact will not be terrible for those travelling nearby: “I am really surprised that this hasn’t already been exploited before now because for anyone who has gone around that area for years, like myself heading over to the west, that particular area is such a well hidden area in real terms.
“Folk who know that area are well aware that when wind farm applications come forward one of the key points that I am looking for is the visual impact on the local communities around there – particularly the rural nature of them.
“The fact that it is a hugely scenic area, the rolling topography of that area changes virtually with every bend that you are going along and this here is no surprise because of the topography.”
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