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'We are horrified' – Community council oppose biogas plant planning bid near Balintore

By Niall Harkiss

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COMMUNITY council members for Balintore and Hilton will oppose plans for a 100GW per year anaerobic digestion plant, after revealing that residents are 'totally against it'.

Acorn Bioenergy submitted a planning application for the £25 million 'green' biogas plant to Highland Council last week – which is to be built at a site 350m south of Fearn Aerodrome near Balintore.

The new anaerobic digestion plant would be built at Fearn Airfield.
The new anaerobic digestion plant would be built at Fearn Airfield.

But members of the Balintore and Hilton community council (BHCC) have hit back at the proposed development, feeling that concerns raised at a public consultation have been ignored.

The London-based firm has accreditation to inject 5000m3 of biomethane into Scotland’s gas grid to heat homes and power heavy goods vehicles. They are now pursuing plans for anaerobic digestion (AD) plants in locations in the Highlands, Moray and Aberdeenshire – with a total investment of around £105 million.

If planning is granted, work could start early in 2023.

Alastair Gill, chairman of BHCC, said: "The community is horrified by the proposed plant. There has been uproar in our local communities and we are totally against it.

"Acorn have not addressed any of the concerns raised by the public since the plans were revealed and they are now putting in for planning permission. They have run roughshod over the community's views, basically."

BHCC joined forces with Fearn community council to hold a public meeting in August, prompting residents to flag their concerns and raise questions over increases in the volume of traffic, the plant's proximity to nearby warehousing facilities and its distance from the gas grid.

Proposals estimate that the AD plant will result in an additional 14,352 vehicle movements annually, averaging out at 1198 extra journeys per month.

Concerns were also raised over the plant's use of vent flares to burn excess biogas and its proximity to distillery warehouses and a micro-distillery nearby.

Mr Gill added: "One of the biggest concerns is the road infrastructure and traffic management. The roads network around Fearn and Balintore is not capable or fit for purpose to cope with a thousand extra HGV movements each month. These are not just little vehicles, we are talking about 44 tonne HGVs.

"People might say – what's wrong with it, you shouldn't discourage industry coming to the area – but you have to look at the area and its current infrastructure. The roads are not maintained well as it is. We have a constant fight to have potholes filled or repaired each year, so to add further pressure would be unacceptable. We don't feel they have thought about this and they aren't willing to listen."

Mr Gill also stated that concerns exist over the location of the site in proximity to the gas grid itself, which is some 40 miles away.

Acorn have stated that the Fearn site was prioritised due to its good access to farms and distilleries that can provide high quality crops and residues to help them produce "clean, green biogas".

They say that the plant will help the Highlands transition towards a net zero future by reducing its carbon emissions, and realise Highland Council ambitions of becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

Acorn also state that the plant, which they hope will be operational by 2024, will create 15 full-time jobs in the area and around 100 during its construction.

Balintore and Hilton CC plan to hold a community council meeting in Balintore on Tuesday November 15, where objections to the application will be gathered to be packaged for submission to Highland Council.

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