part of north-east Scotland is being divided by a "ring of steel", it has been claimed, after plans for 15 more wind turbines were approved.

The decision to allow the ScottishPower Renewables' develop­ment site near the village of Spittal, Caithness, is the latest in an area that one councillor says is being turned into an industrial renewables park.

RWE, one of Europe's five leading electricity and gas companies, has 21 turbines in the nearby long established Causeymire development. Another five could soon be on their way.

However, a third application for 13 turbines, at Bad a Cheo, in the same area, also from the RWE Group, was refused on the casting vote of Highland Council's north planning committee yesterday.

There was concern on the impact on a local peat extraction firm and a war memorial to a crashed Flying Fortress bomber. But RWE is expected to appeal to the Scottish Government.

Underlying the debate was the question of whether it is better to form a cluster of wind farms in one area to protect the rest of the rural landscape, or spread them out. It was an issue that split the committee.

Just one vote (7-6) approved ScottishPower Renewables' application at Halsary Forest.

Willie MacKay, councillor for Landward Caithness, said if you asked people in the county where new turbines should be located they would say at Causeymire.

Alex MacLeod, also a councillor for the same area, said the project being close to Causeymire was one of its benefits, rather than having wind farms "dotted" about the place.

He said the Scottish Government had just given permission for Europe's largest tidal turbine energy project on the Caithness coast in the Pentland Firth.

"Caithness is attracting significant investment. It will continue to do so if we set the right tone. Caithness is the beating heart of Scotland's renewable revolution," he added.

However, Cromarty Firth councillor Mike Finlayson said that adding the development to Causeymire was putting "a ring of steel" round the area. He added: "We have to consider the cumulative effect of a spreading of turbines across the Caithness landscape."

Caithness councillor Gillian Coghill said "We won't have open views if we build these wind turbines. We will have a total and utter industrial landscape."

Meanwhile, Whirlwind Renewables' application for the five turbine Achlachan Wind Farm, near Spittal, was deferred.

This followed an intervention by Councillor Coghill casting doubt on assurances from the developers that all properties nearby, whose owners would have a financial interest in the project, had been approached. Ms Coghill said she and her husband leased land nearby from Lord Thurso and was not aware of any approach from the developers. It was decided to defer a decision until the issue had been clarified.

Stuart Young, of the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, which campaigns against windfarms, said "In Caithness we now have 94 turbines operational or just about to be so. There are 54 more approved but not yet constructed. Another 43 submitted in planning applications, but not yet determined, and between 174 and 188 in scoping (being prepared for planning applications).

"But, as a result of today, the turbines will be less than a mile of the nearest house and less than two from Spittal."

He said the meeting had also highlighted the major weakness of the planning process in dealing with the applications on a first come, first served basis, rather than looking at the overall cumulative impact. Mr Young added: "These three applications today should have been considered together and the impact on people should have been at the top of the list."