Invergordon distillery biogas plant go-ahead is 'a kick in the teeth' for objectors
THE decision to approve a huge biogas plant at a distillery in Invergordon has been described as a “further kick in the teeth for my end of town” by the objector who organised a 220-signature petition against it.
However, the granting of planning permission for the anaerobic digester at Invergordon Distillery has gone down well with whisky giant Whyte & Mackay and the GMB union, which were both keen to secure a future for the 100-strong workforce.
Whyte & Mackay is now able to apply for Government funding through the Renewable Heat Incentive for the project. It is expecting to hear the outcome of that in the summer, when the company will be able to look at a start date for construction.
Objectors had claimed the 20-metre plant tanks would tower over nearby homes, and they also called for an annual levy to be paid as compensation for black fungus in the area, allegedly caused by the distillery.
The petition, calling for the plant to be located away from the houses on another part of the distillery site, was submitted to Highland Council’s north planning committee on Tuesday.
But councillors said they “could not find a reason” to refuse the application.
Cadboll Road resident Alan Ross, who handed over the petition, told the Ross-shire Journal after the meeting: “Naturally I’m extremely disappointed, I see it as a further kick in the teeth for my end of town.
“We received very little sympathy for our position in the council chamber.
“One Caithness delegate tried to get the application deferred, but he was gunned down and the thing sailed through with no amendments. We received no support from our local councillor, which we found disappointing.”
He added that a planning condition to set up a liaison group between the distillery and concerned residents was a “good step in the right direction”.
Local MSP Gail Ross also expressed disappointment and said she would make further enquiries in the hope of reaching a sustainable compromise.
“I’m disappointed not to see Highland Council encourage Whyte & Mackay to have a greater sense of social corporate responsibility,” she said.
“The community deserves to be treated with respect and an acknowledgement should be made that the black fungus grows on their properties as a direct result of the distillery.”
Ian Mackie, production director at Whyte and Mackay Invergordon, said: “These plansrepresent a significant investment for Whyte & Mackay, which will allow us to continue employing approximately 100 people from the local community and contributing £6 million to the local economy.”
He added they acknowledged that a small number of specific issues were raised from members of the local community which they would “continue to discuss and resolve wherever possible”.
GMB’s regional officer Liz Gordon said: “We are pleased the plan has been given the okay to move forward – there will be less traffic, less smell and more job security. The bottom line is that this proposal will secure jobs and £6 million in the local economy.”
The development will require the demolition of the cooperage, filling store and cask shed and the decommissioning of the dark grains plant.
The plant will process spent wash and pot ale from the Invergordon, Dalmore and Tamnavulin distilleries into renewable energy to be used to heat the site and by the national grid.
The application had also attracted 94 public comments in support.
At the meeting, Cromarty Firth councillor Maxine Smith acknowledged concerns but said it has never been proven the black fungus is caused by the distillery.
Residents of distillery towns and villages elsewhere in Scotland have reported a similar substance, said to be caused by vapours escaping from barrels when whisky matures, known as the Angels’ Share.
Councillor Smith said: “Historically the distillery has not been the best neighbour.
“They have not been the best at liaising and they need to get better in the future.
“A lot of concern relates to the black mould, the Angels’ Share. It hasn’t been proven that it comes from the distillery but given that it happens all over the world it probably does.”
She said she had looked at the objections and they had all been addressed.
“At the moment I am struggling to find anything to refuse it on,” she said.
Council planning officer Dorothy Stott said the applicant acknowledged the size of the tanks, described as “huge” and colossal” during the meeting, but said they would fit in as it is an industrial area.
The application was unanimously approved, with the conditions that work does not take place on a Sunday and a liaison group is set up to work with residents of nearby houses.