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Inquiry launched into controversial plans for third wind farm development around scenic far north crofting community

A probe has been launched into the creation of a third commercial wind farm in a far north crofting settlement.

RWE Renewables UK is seeking the go-ahead to erect 13 turbines in a coniferous forest, about five miles south of Strathy in north Sutherland.

The village already neighbours SWE’s 33-turbine development at Strathy North while the firm has consent for a further 39-turbine venture at Strathy South.

The public local inquiry into the Strathy Wood proposal has been triggered by an objection lodged by Highland Council.

It claims the 62 megawatt scheme, which is earmarked on ground between the two SSE wind farms, would adversely affect a Peatlands Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Fears turbines could spoil scenery for tourists

The council is also concerned that the turbines would spoil the view of the area, including for tourists on the adjoining North Coast 500 route.

At a hearing today, RWE expert witness John Mason disputed the council’s views on the impact the 590ft high turbines would have on the landscape.

He said: “The turbines are large scale in terms of man-made machinery but this is a very, very large scale landscape that is capable of absorbing them.

“I don’t believe there is an instance where the scale of the turbines would appear to be out of scale with the landscape.”

Argument that turbines would not be ‘out of keeping’ with surroundings

Mr Mason, a landscape architect, did not believe that the 230ft greater height of the Strathy Wood turbines to the existing ones at Strathy North would be out of keeping.

He added: “The turbines would be larger but generally speaking it’s often barely possible to see a distinction.”

He believed Strathy Wood would appear from a distance to be an extension to the existing wind farm.

Mr Mason accepted that without the other two wind farms, Strathy Wood would have to be treated as “an entirely novel” feature on the landscape.

He agreed with QC James Findlay, representing the council, that the turbines would extend across the valley of the River Strathy, to the east of the strath.

But he described the valley as a “relatively low-key” feature and did not think the landscape would be significantly affected.

Mr Findlay responded: “There will be a turbine in line with the hill in the distance, with the tip of the turbine blade exceeding the height of the hill.”

Could warning lights at the top of structures distract drivers?

Mr Mason replied: “There will be a difference of opinion between two people looking at a wind farm.

“My view is that my assessment is a fair one and the judgement I have reached is reasonable. Clearly Highland Council takes a different view.”

Asked about aviation warning lights needed on top of the turbines, Mr Mason said their impact can often be overstated.

He said: “They are controlled by sensors that dim them to 10 per cent of full operating brightness when visibility is good.

“They only are at full power when visibility is poor.”

He added that when they are on at night, few people are about and he was confident they would not be a distraction for motorists.

The on-line inquiry is due to run until Friday.