Mountaineers opposed to two wind farms planned near a Highland beauty spot claim they would “blemish” part of the nation’s most important wild countryside.
Two separate applications for Glencassley and Sallachy, near Loch Shin and Ben Assynt, totalling 48 turbines at least 125 metres tall are to be debated by councillors next week.
But the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has been left shocked that planning officials have recommended no objection be raised to the plans.
Chief officer David Gibson said approving the projects, which also include 33km of access tracks, would be a “disaster” and urged councillors to throw the plans out.
He said: “It will be truly shocking if Highland councillors vote in favour of wind farm proposals that would do such damage to the wild landscapes that make Assynt-Coigach so special.
“It would put councillors on the wrong side of the conservation debate, the wrong side of public opinion and would do a great wrong to the natural heritage they are supposed to protect, and which is so important to their constituents’ tourism businesses.
“Highland councillors have previously shown grave concern about the impact of inappropriate wind farms and we hope they will do the right thing and oppose these hideous applications.”
He said the Scottish Government had recently indicated in its National Planning Framework consultation that it may make small changes towards protecting National Scenic Areas from wind farm “industrialisation”.
He added: “It would be deeply unfortunate if these wind farms were given a green light while the government is consulting on these proposals.
“We are calling on [energy] minister Fergus Ewing to make a real stand for Scotland’s natural heritage and put a halt to wrong-headed proposals like these.
“Unless he takes serious action to keep wind farms well away from our remaining unspoiled mountain areas we risk a situation where natural wonders like Ben Assynt are swamped in a sea of turbines. Scotland deserves better.”
He added that the Sallachy and Glencassley planning applications also come during the Year of Natural Scotland, when the Scottish Government and the VisitScotland tourism agency say we should be celebrating the country’s natural heritage.
Oliver Patent, head of international development at WKN, behind the Sallachy project, said: “We are delighted that the application has met with the approval of the Highland Council planners and we hope this view is supported by Highland Councillors.
“Our Sallachy project is our first proposed development in the UK and represents a potential investment into Scotland of over £130m and the creation of over 70 new jobs.
“The planners’ recommendation is the first step forward in making this potential investment in the Highlands a reality.
“WKN is aware of the debate surrounding wild land. In our discussions with local people in the area, we have concluded that the local people want wind farms that are sensitively sited and are not sited close to rural Highland communities.
“We believe our wind farm is sited in such a location and will bring many benefits to the Highlands and the local communities in the form of community benefit and employment.
“The area of our proposed wind farm has existing development, including hydro infrastructure, access roads and plantation woodland, and we believe it is well placed for a renewable energy project.”
A spokesman for SSE, behind the Glencassley project, said: “The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has got it wrong again.
“The proposed wind farm at Glencassley has been carefully designed so that no turbines will impact the views of Ben More Assynt from local residences and tourist routes.
“It is also wrong to say, as MCofS do, that the development will ‘intrude’ on the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area.
“This is backed up Scottish Natural Heritage who have stated that they ‘do not consider that the impacts of Glencassley will affect the integrity of the NSA’.
“The planning report also recognises that, due to the design of the project, ‘the best quality wild land would not be affected’.
“If consented, the scheme will deliver significant economic and employment opportunities to the local area.
“We welcome the planning officer’s recommendation not to object to this proposal and now look forward to the committee making an objective decision based on the facts.”