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‘Utterly irresponsible’: row over plans for power line workers’ temporary camp in Skye

SSE wants to leave a housing legacy, but campaigners are seeking a more permanent solution.

A power line is planned from Caithness to Beauly
A power line is planned from Caithness to Beauly

Power giant SSE has been urged to reconsider plans for a temporary workers’ camp in Skye which a leading MSP has branded “irresponsible”.

The site would house around 350 workers involved in building a proposed overhead power line (OHL).

SSEN Transmission says it is exploring whether the Broadford development could be used to provide a “housing legacy” after the five-year construction project.

But local campaigners say it is a “missed opportunity” to build much-needed permanent homes and tackle an affordable housing shortage.

MSP Kate Forbes has also told the company of her “frustration and disappointment” at the proposals.

What is being planned?

A proposal of application notice (PAN) for the camp has been put forward by catering company Sodexo Ltd to accommodate SSEN workers.

It would include mobile kitchen and dining facilities and medical, laundry and recreational areas.

The plans will be discussed at public drop-in exhibitions in Broadford on May 21 and June 20.

The power company wants to upgrade the line to improve reliability and connect new wind farms.

A decision is awaited from Scottish Government on whether the line goes ahead.

Highland Council objected to the plans in November, a decision that disappointed SSEN.

Scottish SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes
Kate Forbes says the plan is ‘irresponsible’. Image: PA.

Kate Forbes says there should be genuine community engagement and benefit from the OHL upgrade.

“It is absolutely vital that big corporations do not just steamroll in and then steamroll out again leaving locals with nothing but memories of disruption, devastation and anger.

“Against that backdrop, the application to essentially create a modular village on private land in Broadford for SSE workers is utterly irresponsible and completely fails the people of South Skye.”

Ease pressure on housing stock

She said council or housing association land could have been used in the area for the camp.

“Even if it was modular structures going up, services and roads could be put in at SSE’s expense to ensure the site is shovel-ready for future housing development.

“I dare say a few permanent units could go up too.

“All of that would ease the pressures on housing stock, local infrastructure and public finances.”

“I have written to SSE to make clear my own frustration and disappointment at the proposals in Sodexo’s planning application, and I have also urged them to reconsider and rework this.”

The camp is planned near Broadford.

Ms Forbes said, if approved, the OHL will last many years.

“We cannot have repeats of this situation. The planning application for the compound is certainly not a good start, and will only increase fears that the community stands to gain nothing but disruption.”

Skye campaigner Faye MacLeod says there has been “zero” consultation on the worker’s camp plan so far.

“It’s a pity this wasn’t considered much earlier, allowing for greater collaboration with the community and plenty time to deliver a tangible benefit for the community.

“Community benefit could be delivered if affordable housing, say 120 three-bedroomed homes, was built that could be gifted to the community at the end of the five years.

Communities impacted for years

“This would help in the longer term alleviate the shortage of affordable housing on Skye, perhaps in smaller clusters of housing in different locations rather than one large development.

“But a workers’ camp with temporary modular accommodation units will not.”

Ms MacLeod added: “It could give much greater benefit to the communities that are going to be very significantly impacted by this for at least five years during construction.

“It seems to me to be a missed opportunity if it’s not going to be a more permanent solution.”

Faye MacLeod wants more permanent houses build on Skye

SSEN Transmission said the ‘accommodation village’ would house workers building substations at Edinbane and Broadford as part of the proposed power line.

The company said it was advised by Highland Council there was no land available for the development.

It will work with the authority on the second camp to try to secure land.

Camp will ‘minimise impact on housing supply’

A spokesman said: “The temporary accommodation village, which is one of two planned on the island, will help our contractor to meet their accommodation needs for their teams.

“(It will) also ensure they minimise any impact on the local housing supply or take up key hotel spaces that may be used by visitors, which we recognise are vital to the island’s economy.

“In keeping with our commitment to leaving a positive lasting legacy across our projects, we’re working with our contractors, local community groups and the local authority to actively explore whether these temporary accommodation villages can be developed in a way that leaves a housing legacy on the Isle of Skye following completion of the proposed project.”

Highland Council said it did not tell SSEN there was no land for the camp, but discussions are ongoing.

A spokeswoman said: “We have had initial discussions regarding potential housing legacy projects but no specific discussions regarding the site in question.”