The John Muir Trust today urges Highlands Cooncil to reject the recommendation of its planning officials and lodge an objection to the proposed 22-turbine Creag Riabhach wind farm in Sutherland.
The development would be partially located within an official Wild Land Area at Altnaharra in Sutherland, with a visual impact extending to a further three Wild Land Areas
Objections to the scheme are wide-ranging, and straddle government agencies, environmental charities and outdoor groups including SNH, Visit Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland.
SNH has stated that the development would “significantly and adversely affect wild land” while Visit Scotland has expressed concern over the potential negative impact on tourism.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust is alarmed at the impact on blanket bog, and on the government’s own climate change targets, while the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has pointed to the visual disfigurement of a key mountain landscape, which includes a number of popular Munros and Corbetts, such as Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope.
Helen McDade, Head of Policy, John Muir Trust, said: “Given the breadth of opposition from expert bodies, it would be negligent of Highlands council to allow this application to proceed without the scrutiny of a Public Local Inquiry.
“In our judgement, the planning official’s report fails to address the wide range of negative impacts that this development would have on wild land, peatland and tourism. Nor does the decision reflect Scottish Government planning policy brought in last year, which gives greater protection to Wild Land Areas. Highland Council needs to urgently review its planning policy and assessments urgently.
“The planning official’s recommendation also appears to fly in the face of three recent decisions by Scottish Government ministers, refusing consent to wind farms in other wild land areas in the Highlands.
“The North Planning Applications Committee is to be congratulated for making the correct call in the past by objecting to four applications (Dunbeath, Glenmorie, Beinn Mhor and Limekiln) against the recommendation of its Planning Officer. All four schemes were later refused by the Scottish Government, vindicating the decision of the councillors.
“In the interests of consistency, accountability and transparency, we would urge the North Planning Applications Committee of Highland Council to object to this application in order that it receives the rigorous scrutiny it deserves.”
But local MSP Rob Gibson (SNP, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) is in favour of development on economic grounds.
“The objections to the Creag Riabhach wind farm proposalin Strath Vagastie are based around the subjective criteria produced by Scottishs Natural Heritage to limit development in wild land,” he said.
“The fact remains that nearly every child who attends Altnaharra school will go off down past Strath Vagastie on the A836 to the south for education and careers. These young people are never likely under current economic circumstances to find a home and a job in the area they come from.
“So let’s give proposals for natural resource development careful consideration. Preserving north central Sutherland in aspic is not a sustainable land use for a confident future to keep Sutherland working.”