Published: 13/11/2015 16:30 - Updated: 13/11/2015 10:25

Questions raised over the cost of Ben Wyvis wind farm appeal

Cllr Ian Cockburn: 'Pure science fiction'
Cllr Ian Cockburn: 'unnecessary expense'

A ROSS-SHIRE councillor has questioned why an energy developer pushed ahead with an unsuccessful appeal for permission to build a highly controversial wind farm on the Ben Wyvis range when it had “little chance” of going through.

Councillor Ian Cockburn claims the appeal against refusal of the 14-turbine Carn Gorm Wind Farm cost a lot of public money, which he says was an unnecessary expense.

More than 180 objectors breathed a collective sigh of relief in September 2014 when plans for the 115-metre turbines on a prominent hill below the Ben, overlooking Garve, was refused by Highland Council planners and members under delegated powers. They claimed the wind farm would have dominated the skyline over a large area of Ross-shire and beyond to Inverness.

However, the developer, PI Renewables, lodged an appeal with the Scottish Government in an attempt to overturn the refusal. That led to a public local inquiry being held on dates in June, August and September this year at the Ben Wyvis Hotel in Strathpeffer.

This week the Scottish Government reporter, Robert Maslin, published his decision to reject the appeal.

He said the wind farm would have a “significantly detrimental” visual impact on the summit of Ben Wyvis, the An Cabar route up the mountain, the villages of Marybank and Contin and the A832 road from Torriegorrie to Gorstan, outside Garve.

He also said the development would have an unacceptable impact on the Ben Wyvis special landscape area and wild land areas, which is against various planning policies. His report said: “As part of my inspection, I visited An Cabar on the way to the summit of Ben Wyvis.

“The final kilometre of the path to An Cabar gradually steepens and high up takes the form of rock steps. At places, the path is at the edge of a very steep slope, dropping seemingly almost vertically 500 metres to Bealach Mor. This clearly is the most dramatic part of the walk to the summit of Ben Wyvis. It is also the part from which there would be views of the proposed turbines. I find that the proposed turbines would detract considerably from the wildness that is experienced on the ascent of An Cabar.”

Mr Maslin also turned down PI Renewables separate appeal claim for expenses against Scottish Natural Heritage.

Councillor Cockburn, a member for the Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh ward – who lives at Tarvie near the proposed site of the wind farm – was one of 186 people who lodged objections.

“I am pleased the appeal was refused because that is what the community in the Strathpeffer area wanted, but I really feel the company took this to appeal, which cost public money, when they knew there was little chance of it being successful,” said Councillor Cockburn.

“Highland Council turned it down because it was against several planning policies, not just one single issue. It all cost a lot of money, which was unnecessary in my opinion.”

PI Renewables Limited had sought permission for 14 115m turbines, as well as a substation, borrow pits and 10.5 kilometres of access tracks on a site north of Loch Garve above Strathgarve Forest on the south-western end of the Wyvis range.

The firm said 60 workers would take 14 months to build it and £220,000 a year would go towards community benefit schemes.

Opponents of the scheme claimed the wind farm would be clearly visible from several communities in a large area from Achnasheen to Inverness and it would transform the scenic tourist route between the Black Isle and Ullapool into “Turbine Alley”.

The John Muir Trust welcomed the appeal rejection as another crucial victory in its long-term campaign to protect Scotland’s wild places from industrial-scale development. Policy officer John Low, who gave evidence at the inquiry, said: “We now hope energy companies will get the message that future applications for large-scale wind farms impacting on Wild Land Areas are likely to fail.”

David Gibson, pic also attached if usefulchief executive officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “We hope that this decision sends a further strong message to those who seek to develop the area around Ben Wyvis in particular, and Scotland’s fantastic resource of wild land further afield.”

PI Renewables, which is based in West Calder, was contacted for comment but failed to respond.

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