A PUBLIC inquiry will be held into a controversial wind farm planned by energy giant SSE in north west Sutherland.

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

The plan would see 47 turbines erected amid 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.

More than 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 environmental grounds, including the impact on birds such as the hen harrier, golden eagle and the rare wood sandpiper with particular concern for the red-throated diver and greenshank.

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

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 at an inquiry rather than "behind closed doors".