A furious row erupted last night after Highland councillors approved a new document that campaigners say opens the door to more wind turbines around Loch Ness.
The planning committee yesterday approved revised guidelines indicating areas where windfarms could – and should not – be built.
In contrast to previous policy, a new map shows swathes of countryside between 10 and 20 miles from Loch Ness that are now “potential areas for development”, although not necessarily for industrial-sized turbines.
While the focus is on more domestic scale turbines, the new guidelines allow for further large scale towers “around existing clusters”.
Councillors unanimously approved the document despite fresh potential for the Ben Wyvis area where a public inquiry recently rejected the construction of a windfarm.
The document has so far omitted Caithness and the Black Isle.
Principal planner David Cowie told councillors that guidelines for those areas would follow and that the document, which followed three rounds of public consultation, was “not a map of allocations.”
The colour-coded maps, however, show designated areas that are either “not acceptable for windfarms” or “areas of significant protection” or “areas with potential for windfarm development.”
Loch Ness falls into the latter category as part of “a response to new Scottish Government planning policies.”
SNP Wester Ross and Strathpeffer councillor Ian Cockburn was puzzled by the blue coding for Ben Wyvis.
“It’s not on,” he said.
There was no vote, however, and the document was approved.
Fellow SNP councillor George Farlow claimed that, if he were “being cynical”, lairds in his Sutherland ward had been “pandered to” because windfarms in their patch had been barred.
He complained that areas most in need of community benefits from a windfarm would miss out.
Horrified by the new guidelines, Jim Treasurer of pressure group Friends of the Great Glen said: “It gives developers a green light. Nothing can justify the bulldozing of the tops of Scottish mountains and extraction of thousands of tonnes of carbon-rich peat.”
The revised document replaces the council’s previous windfarms strategy which was drawn up just 10 years ago at a cost of £550,000 – which independent councillor Jim Crawford described as “an appalling waste of money.”