LOCAL planners have approved plans to to build up to 277 wind turbines in an area of sea off the Caithness coast more than twice the size of Dundee.

The biggest turbines will be eight miles offshore and at least twice the size of Edinburgh's 197ft Scott Monument.

Members of Highland Council agreed the £3 billion Beatrice offshore wind-farm project should go ahead without any dissent during a planning meeting and it will be passed to ministers for a final decision.

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The independent nationalist councillor for Caithness Landward, Alex Macleod, said: "The importance of getting this process right for the far north cannot be overstated.

"The project will put the far north on the map as the destination to invest at the moment in renewable energy."

He said the project will reap benefits for the Nigg fabrication yard and Wick Harbour.

Councillor Macleod added: "This is a golden opportunity to develop Wick harbour as the destination to service and maintain not just this development, but other future offshore developments. With a harbour, a hospital and an airport it is perfectly situated."

The Scottish Government had sought the council's views on the scheme, a partnership between SSE Renewables and Repsol Nuevas Energias UK, which will generate 1000 megawatts.

Wick and Nigg are identified as likely service centres along with Ardersier if it is developed. It is hoped the project will give Caithness a post-Dounreay future and which could see the far north replace Aberdeen as an investment hub.

Ministers are also to decide on another project consisting of up to 339 turbines across three offshore wind farms further out in the Moray Firth.

Meanwhile, East Lothian's planning commitee has granted planning consent for works to connect the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm. It gave the go ahead for around seven miles of buried cable between Thorntonloch Beach, East Lothian, where the subsea cable is planned to reach shore, and Crystal Rig onshore wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills, where the Grid connection would be made.

l A single wind turbine which can be seen from the late Queen Mother's Caithness holiday home where Prince Charles still visits has been approved by Highland councillors.

The turbine on Barrogill Mains farm will be a around 500 yards away from the Castle of Mey. The farmer had previously been refused permission for a wind turbine.