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Public inquiry to be held into plan for 47 turbine wind farm

There will be a public inquiry into what has been described as one of the most worrying wind farm plans in Scotland, which is being pursued by energy giant SSE in north west Sutherland.

Scottish ministers will take the final decision but following Highland councillors voting four to one to object to the £200m Strathy South wind farm, an inquiry is now inevitable.

The plan would see 47 turbines erected amidst a massive area of moorland at the heart of the Flow Country. This area of Caithness and Sutherland is on the UK's tentative list for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as one of the largest and most intact areas of blanket bog in the world.

However although the site is surrounded by environmental designations, it itself is not restricted.

Over 200 letters of objection were received, although there was support from two of the three local community councils because of the employment potential.

Scottish Natural Heritage and RSPB Scotland had lodged objections on the environmental impact on birds such as the hen harrier, golden eagle and the rare wood sandpiper with particular concern over the red throated diver and greenshank.

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, added: "This is, without doubt, one of the most worrying wind farm applications we have seen in Scotland.

"Not only does it risk harming some of the UK's rarest species, it would make restoration of this core part of the globally important Flow Country much more difficult."

But SSE insists that the wind farm would be built on an area already badly damaged by commercial forestry plantation, so would help the restoration of the peatland.

However at the committee meeting Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Angela MacLean said she was worried that the council could be open to the charge of hypocrisy if members were to ignore RSPB's concerns in this case, while publicly condemning the recent mass poisoning of red kites.

Planning officials had recommended that that Highland Council's north area planning committee did not object on condition eight turbines were removed from the plan.

But Caithness councillor David Bremner said he thought the issues should be raised publicly in an inquiry rather than "behind closed doors."

Committee chair, Black Isle councillor Isobel McCallum said " I think there is a consensus here that the most appropriate route would be down the road of an inquiry because I think it requires that level of scrutiny."

The vote was 12 to three to object which SSE's lead director of wholesale generation development Colin Nicol described as "a very disappointing decision."

He said a great deal of hard work has gone into developing this project over the years working with the local community. "SSE is a responsible developer with a longstanding Highland heritage, this £200m project will deliver a significant contribution to renewable energy targets and jobs and substantial investment to an area of rural Scotland with a fragile economy. "

But George Campbell, Regional Director of RSPB Scotland, said he was delighted and confident that once the application had gone through that inquiry process, Scottish Ministers would refuse consent.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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