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War looming over Caley Thistle battery storage plan as dozens of councillors launch bid to reconsider approval

The club says it is "bewildered" and considering "all legal options" after the move following a 3-2 vote to grant permission.

Caley Thistle were banking on the battery storage plant to help the club's finances.
Caley Thistle were banking on the battery storage plant to help the club's finances.

A move is being made to have councillors reconsider planning approval for a controversial battery storage scheme in Inverness.

Highland Council’s south planning applications committee (SPAC) voted 3-2 last week to grant permission for the project against officials’ recommendations.

It would see around 52 battery storage containers, storing up to 50MW of electricity, sited at Fairways Business Park.

But 30 councillors have now signed a notice of amendment seeking a review of the decision by the full council next month.

Legal options being considered

The application was lodged by green energy group Intelligent Land Investments (ILI), Inverness Caley Thistle’s (ICT) main shirt sponsor.

The project is wholly owned by ICT which says profits will help secure the club’s future and support community programmes.

The club said it is “absolutely bewildered” by the move to reconsider the decision and is considering “all legal options open to us”.

Councillor Paul Oldham

The SPAC decision was deferred in November to allow councillors to visit the site.

But only five of the 15-strong committee voted when it came to a decision.

This was due to a combination of illness, councillors declaring an interest or not being present at the site visit or previous meeting.

Committee vice chairman Paul Oldham, who voted against the plan with chairman Thomas MacLennan, now wants it revisited.

‘Not a good look for the council’

In an email sent to fellow councillors he said: “Both Thomas and I, as chair and vice chair of SPAC, were uncomfortable with the way this was decided.

“It’s not a good look for the council when so few of us make such an important decision, especially as only one of us was from an Inverness ward and none from the ward in question.

“But at the time we accepted it and moved on.”

He said he was subsequently made aware that the decision could be reconsidered by the full council if 19 councillors sign the notice of amendment, including five members of SPAC.

Mr Oldham told the Press and Journal 30 councillors had signed the amendment by the deadline of 5pm on Monday.

Opponents say the battery storage site is inappropriate

He said: “My concern, and Councillor MacLennan’s concern, is that this is an important application and was decided by a committee that, because of circumstances, was barely quorate.

“It doesn’t look good for democracy with only five members out of a committee of 15 being eligible to vote on a decision.

“We felt it should go to full council. But I have no expectations about the outcome.”

A council spokeswoman confirmed the authority had received a competent notice of amendment.

That means the application will be submitted to full council in March.

‘Highly irregular move’

But Caley Thistle responded angrily to the move.

In a statement, the club said: “To say that the club are absolutely bewildered by this highly irregular and unheard of move by Highland Council and some of its councillors is an understatement.”

It said the decision of the planning committee was taken in a proper committee forum with a legal quorum.

Referencing the email from Mr Oldham it said: “It is clear that democratic process was followed and one has to wonder if the chair and vice chair, who voted for refusal of our application, won the vote instead of losing, would they have sent this communication?

“We believe we know the answer to that and we are therefore left questioning the motive in this move.

Ross Morrison had welcomed the committee decision

“Again, we would reiterate that we are at a loss as to the reason for this application being reconsidered because ‘it isn’t a good look for the council’.

“This has no legal basis in planning law if all considerations have been dealt with as they were.”

The statement claimed the email contained “fundamental and significant misinformation”.

It also claimed “Nimbyism by a handful of people also seems to be at the heart of this astonishing attempt to subvert due process.”

It adds: “Whilst this is an evolving situation, the club have regrettably been left with no option but to consider all legal options open to us.

“In this regard we have already instructed Thorntons Law to work with the club and its planning advisers to robustly defend the position of the club.

Decision critical for club’s future

“The club have been clear as to how critical this planning application is to the future of the club and everything that the club does for our fans and our local community.

“We will therefore challenge this position taken by the council and will robustly stand by our planning application that was only last week, legally and properly approved by the council’s south planning committee.”

The facility is earmarked for a site at the Fairways Business Park

Council officials had recommended SPAC refuse the plans.

The subsequent approval angered opponents of the scheme who say it went against the local development plan.

Safety fears have also been raised about battery storage with a lack of guidance covering the schemes.

‘Astonishing decision’

Dr Kate Macdonald, who stays near the site, said the approval was an “astonishing decision”.

She wrote to councillors urging them to reflect on the “flagrant breach” of the local plan and to sign the amendment.

She said the decision will harm the trust people have in council’s democratic process.

Lochardil and Drummond Community Council says it is also “hugely disappointed” by the committee decision.

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