A row broke out last night over who was to blame for delays in the consideration of a controversial windfarm application, which mean it will no longer be decided by local councillors.
The fate of the Beinn Mhor scheme, which attracted more than 1,200 objections, now lies in the hands of a Scottish Government reporter.
The bid was taken out of Highland Council’s hands this week after developer wpd Scotland successfully argued that it had not been resolved by the local authority within the agreed time.
The move came after a scheduled site visit by the south planning committee was cancelled for a second time because of bad weather.
Planning officials had recommended approval of the proposals for seven turbines, each 392ft high, on the slopes of Beinn Mhor near Tomich in Glen Affric.
However, councillors were anxious to see the location for themselves due to the huge number of objections the scheme had generated.
Yesterday wpd Scotland claimed there had been a total of six delays during the planning process and said the issue could no longer be settled within the timeframe agreed with the local authority.
The company said it was pressing on to secure planning permission in time to allow a connection date before April 2017 to take advantage of enhanced subsidy.
One local campaigner last night blamed wpd Scotland for the delays, saying it had failed to provide enough information – particularly on the access route.
Ian Campbell, of Glen Affric Friends Say No, said Highland Council had “bent over backwards” to allow the developer time to lodge the required documents.
At yesterday’s planning meeting, questions were asked about why it had taken so long for the proposals to reach the committee in the first place.
Councillor Donnie Kerr said: “I understand that the company were running out of time. At what point did we run out of time to decide?”
Planner Simon Hindson said the council had agreed with the developer that the application would be determined by November 24.
Councillors did not decide on a site visit until their meeting on November 18.
Kyla Donaldson, wpd Scotland’s project manager, said: “It is has always been wpd’s preference for Highland Council to determine this application and we were disappointed that the committee was unable to make its most recent visit to the site and come to its decision.
“Our appeal for non-determination of the application at this stage is based on the very tight timescales we have for connecting the wind turbines to the electricity grid.
“The Beinn Mhor wind farm is one of the few projects in Scotland with a connection date before April 2017 under the Renewables Obligation scheme. We need to know if there is a realistic chance to meet the grid connection deadline and what lead-time local companies would have to tender for the construction work.
“The application for Beinn Mhor wind farm has received six delays to its determination and we have worked closely with the Highland Council for almost two years.”
Despite the government having the final say, Highland councillors will continue to assess the development and give their opinion in the middle of March.
Councillor Margaret Davidson said the site visit should still go ahead.
She added: “I feel we need to go on site and look at the views and the landscape. It is going to rise or fall on the landscape impact and cumulative impact.”