CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to erect turbines on a landmark hillside in the North-East of Scotland have accused developers of using the planning system in an “undemocratic” way to win permission for larger wind farms.
Members of Save Brown Muir claim a scaled-back proposal for a wind farm near the Moray town of Rothes is the first step in a bigger scheme.
Under the original plan submitted by developer Vento Ludens, 19 420ft turbines with a generating capacity of 57MW would have been built.
When the proposal was met with opposition from the community and groups including Scottish Natural Heritage, the firm withdrew that application and replaced it with a smaller scheme redesigned to lessen its impact on the landscape.
The latest proposal is for 12 turbines, each with a capacity of 3MW and the combined potential to generate up to £180,000 a year in community benefit payments.
Wind farms with a generating capacity of more than 50MW require consent from Scottish ministers, while smaller projects go before local authority planners.
Derek Ross, a campaigner for Save Brown Muir, says the community fears if the scaled-back scheme gets the go-ahead Vento Ludens could make moves to extend it later, as has happened at the Hill of Towie and Dorenell wind farms in the region.
Ross said: “These developers are making a mockery of the planning process. They’re using it in an undemocratic way. If they get permission for this smaller scheme, they’ll just be back for more.
“There should be an area of Scotland where there are no turbines allowed because, at the end of the day, it will be the people living there paying, not the companies.”
Moray Council opposed the original scheme for Brown Muir, with some councillors pointing out that the wind farm is proposed for a site that had not been identified in the local development plan. The proposal attracted more than 2,000 objections and only ten voices in support.
Sean Morton, councillor for Fochabers Lhanbryde, has also expressed concerns about proposals for the site and called for Vento Ludens to “shelve it”.
“I have not heard from a single constituent in favour of the plan,” he said.
“The revised plans will still have a visual impact on the landscape, and it’s an area that hasn’t been highlighted by the council for development. They need to stop tinkering around the edges with the plan and simply shelve it.”
Ross, a keen rambler, stressed that building turbines would impact not only on local people, but also on tourism to an area famous for its scenery and iconic wildlife such asospreys.
The Vento Ludens team has been quick to assure locals there are no plans to extend the project back on to the ridge of Brown Muir.
Project manager Thomas Healy said: “After five public exhibitions the feedback shows people have generally welcomed the dramatic reduction in the visual impact that has resulted from the removal of the most prominent ridge turbines. The single biggest issue we have had raised is the possibility of adding more turbines. It is because of this our company is happy to provide assurance that this will not happen.”
But Linda Holt, spokeswoman for anti-wind farm pressure group Scotland Against Spin, warned that the firm’s promise is not legally binding and does not apply to other developers.
“The industry is adept at cynically exploiting the goodwill and fears of communities who want to do their bit and protect local amenity.”