A HUGELY controversial wind farm plan which Ross-shire villagers claimed would lead to their community being encircled by massive turbines has been rejected by the Scottish Government.
The decision by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing to refuse the 34-turbine Glenmorie Wind Farm application on Kildermorie and Glencalvie Estate was yesterday welcomed by a local SNP councillor as a “point of true democracy”.
However, the developers behind the bid, Wind Energy, said it was disappointed that an opportunity to support a “significant number of jobs” won’t be realised.
The decision was celebrated yesterday in Ardross where residents had mounted a strong Save Our Straths campaign against the application, claiming there were already many turbines surrounding the village and this was a “wind farm too far”.
Local John Edmondson, one of the leading campaigners, said everyone in Ardross was extremely pleased that they had been listened to.
“We’re very delighted with the Government minister’s decision,” he said.
“It is quite clear that he and the reporter took on board the main issues of protecting the wild land and the landscape, of the accumulative impact and found that it wasn’t an appropriate location for such a large a wind farm, which is what we have been saying all along.
“Everybody is very pleased that we managed to get ministers to listen to our arguments.”
Although the Glenmorie proposal was described as being in Sutherland, the main impact would have been on Strath Rusdale near Ardross, an area which already has fiive wind farm developments.
A statement from Save Our Straths said: "We have had extensive support from individuals, community councils, various organisations, all local Highland Council members who listened to the communities views at the North Area Planning Committee, and MPs and MEPs have also given us support.
"However, two of our MSPs, almost alone, chose not to support their local constituents and were vociferous in their support of the Glenmorie proposal and even ridiculed the concept of wild land.
"Fergus Ewing MSP Minister for Energy in his decision gave a ringing endorsement to the need to protect wild land and admitted that any limited economic benefits of the scheme would be outweighed by the effect on the landscape ."Ardross has been saved from being surrounded by a ring of steel. However yet another wind farm is being planned for Ardross as we write, and the prospect of a ring of steel will never really go away for Strath Rusdale until the Highland Council develop robust protection for those communities that have reached saturation point in terms of wind farm development and have already made a significant contribution to Scotland’s green energy quota."
The decision, announced yesterday morning, made it clear that Mr Ewing agreed with the findings of the Public Local Inquiry Reporter that the wind farm would cause unacceptable landscape and visual impacts.
In February 2013 Highland Council objected to the Glenmorie application on the grounds that it would impact the landscape and scenery. A subsequent four-day public local inquiry was held in Ardross in October last year.
Mr Ewing said: “Scotland has enormous potential for renewable energy that is delivering jobs and investment across Scotland, and I am determined to ensure communities all over Scotland reap the benefits from renewable energy.
“We need a balanced approach in taking forward this policy and have to consider what impact any development would have on the local area.
“That is why I have refused permission for the proposed wind farm at Glenmorie, which would have had an unacceptable landscape and visual impact, including on the wild land, in the Highland Council area.
“The Scottish Government wants to see the right developments in the right places, and Scottish Planning Policy is clear that the design and location of any wind farm should reflect the scale and character of the landscape and should be considered environmentally acceptable.”
The developer had previously claimed that Glenmorie Wind Farm was expected to support 100 jobs and generate contracts worth £46 million to the Scottish economy. It was also expected to generate enough electricity to power up to 61,000 homes.
Glenmorie Wind Farm LLP’s project manager Lizzie Foot responded to the news by saying: “Glenmorie could have contributed to Scotland’s ambitious 100 per cent renewable electricity target and saved up to 112,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, whilst providing a significant number of jobs for Highland firms. We are very disappointed that this opportunity won’t be realised.”
Cromarty Firth councillor and Highland Council vice-convener, Maxine Smith, said she remained a strong supporter of wind energy, but it was time to act on the Ardross issue, as there were far too many wind farms in close proximity to the proposed Glenmorie development.
“I led the refusal in the council’s planning committee and the councillors voted with me to gain a majority for refusal,” she said.
“Sadly, as nearly always happens, the developer went to appeal to the Scottish Ministers. I am now delighted to hear that they backed the council’s decision to refuse and I thank all involved for the hard work - and expense - to get to this point of true democracy.”
David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, which objected to the application, said: “This is the right decision. We objected to the development and participated in the public local inquiry (PLI) due to its highly intrusive visual impact on some of Scotland’s finest mountains and wild land. I would like to thank our members and the many others who opposed the development.”
Helen McDade, Head of Policy at the John Muir Trust, said: “We are delighted that this development has been refused. It was a wholly inappropriate site, which would have impacted on an area recently confirmed as a Wild Land Area. This was an unsuitable development that should never have been brought forward in the first place. It would have destroyed an area of wild land, had a damaging effect on peat land and could have had harmful long-term economic consequences for the area.
“Councillors from all political parties came together to object to this giant development. There was also strong opposition from the local community. It would have been a travesty of democracy if this development had been given the green light.
“The refusal by the Scottish Government sends a strong message to developers that it is inappropriate to target areas now recognised in Scottish planning policy as nationally important for their wild land qualities. And it is a welcome indication that the Scottish Government is delivering on its commitment in the new National Planning Framework 3 to continue its strong protection for our wildest landscapes. This is a victory for those who want to see Scotland’s wild land protected against large-scale industrial development. We are therefore delighted that the Scottish Government has rejected it.”