North MSP insists windfarms are vital to bring people back

SSE artist's impression of the proposed windfarm at Strathy South in the Flow Country of Sutherland.

A north MSP has claimed developments such as windfarms are vital to bring people back to sparely populated areas.

Rob Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, has argued that giving protection to vast areas of lands stands in the way of developments that could create jobs and bring people back to the area.

Scottish Southern Energy (SSE) wants to build a 39-turbine windfarm, named Strathy South, in Caithness, and a public inquiry will begin next week.

The plan has encountered opposition from conservation organisations including RSPB Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Plantlife Scotland and BugLife.

Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council and local residents have also objected to the proposals, which involve building on an area of important blanket bog known as the Flow Country.

But Mr Gibson – who is convener of the parliament’s rural affairs, climate change and environment committee – said “sustainable communities” could only be built with a “balance of nature”.

He said: “Local people value their natural heritage but they also need homes and jobs.

“Local people have claimed they are the most endangered species in the far north. Ahead of this inquiry, several large conservation organisations solely display concern for breeding pairs of birds.

“Humans cannot live on landscape designations alone, so a reversal of the Clearances will be needed to build sustainable communities using human ingenuity and respect for a balance of nature.

“Certain major conservation groups have shown scant regard for these stark facts. Their views have to be challenged.”

The inquiry into the windfarm will begin on April 20, and will be heard by Scottish Government reporter Alasdair Edwards at Strathy Village Hall.

It is expected to take five days, followed by a site visit on Monday, April 27.

John McTague of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Important peatlands would be significantly damaged by this development. Over half of the proposed turbines would be situated on peat more than a metre in depth, which would have started to form over 1,000 years ago.”

An SSE spokeswoman said: “The Strathy South windfarm and associated peatland restoration and management proposal has been carefully designed to both generate clean energy and restore and manage thousands of hectares of damaged peatland in the Flow Country.”