Landowner offers locals up to half of £12m profit share for permission to build hydro-electric scheme on beauty spot

'The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's' on the Birks o' Aberfeldy, according to Robert Burns' famous poem
'The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's' on the Birks o' Aberfeldy, according to Robert Burns' famous poem
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A LAIRD has offered to share up to half of a possible £12 million profit if residents allow a hydro-electric scheme to be built at a famous Scottish beauty spot. Donald Ogilvy Watson is ­offering the people of Aberfeldy 50 per cent of any profit from the scheme in return for permission to build part of it on ­common land.

Renewable energy consultants estimate that the offer, which depends on the community investing around £285,000 in the project, could net the community in the Perthshire town more than £6 million over the next 50 years.

The scheme has attracted widespread criticism, with some residents claiming that it could adversely affect tourism. It will be built at the Birks of Aberfeldy, immortalised by Robert Burns in his poetry.

Yesterday, critics derided the latest offer, saying it was ­“appealing to greed”. Earlier offers were rejected twice in community votes.

However, the community council has agreed to discuss the proposition and, if it concludes that it would benefit the area, a third vote will be held for residents to decide.

Mark Jennison, managing partner at energy consultants Realise Renewables, who is conducting talks between the community and Ogilvy Watson, said: “The figures are broad brush to demonstrate the concept to the community and all of them are estimates because things have moved on since the original calculations of capital costs and revenues, but over 20 years they would get an estimated £2.85m, and over 50 years, which is the general lifespan of a hydro scheme, it would probably be £6.2m.

“They would also still share the initial rental payment for the land of £2.1m with about three or four landowners whose property the scheme would also cross.”

He added: “The developer has offered a 50:50 split because it appeared from earlier rejections of the scheme by the community that their view might be different if they had a greater stake and control.”

The controversial plans for a “run of river” hydro generator at the picturesque waterfalls, which inspired Burn’s song of the same name, were approved by Perth and Kinross Council in 2009.

But the scheme, which could power 1,000 homes, cannot go ahead without permission from the Aberfeldy Common Good Fund, which owns the land needed for a site to house the turbine.

Campaigners say that the waterfalls attract tourists to the town and stress that the common good land was gifted to the people for recreation, not an electricity plant.

Concerns centre around the potential impact the scheme could have on the appearance of the falls after it emerged that up to 70 per cent of water at the site could be redirected to produce power.

Green Highland Renewables, which has designed the hydro scheme for Ogilvy Watson, has stressed that it should not have a noticeable effect on water levels.

However, John Manning, who founded the Save our Birks campaign with his wife against the development, said: “The Birks is Aberfeldy’s most prominent tourist attraction. Myself and my wife walk there every day and we meet so many people from around the world who say the reason they came to Aberfeldy is to see the Birks. The person who wants to build this hydro scheme just wants to make lots of money from the Birks at the expense of our main tourist attraction.

“When the Birks was given to the people of Aberfeldy the most important condition in its donation was that it was to be used for recreation.”

Branding the latest offer as “total rubbish”, he added: “It will take years for any return and they are only based on ‘possible’ return so the community could be left in debt.”

Councillor Ian Campbell, one of five members of Perth and Kinross local authority who form the Aberfeldy Common Good Fund committee, said there were pros and cons to the proposal.

He said: “The community council’s view at this stage is that it’s probably quite a high-risk venture for the community in terms of the amount of money to be raised and the repayments, which won’t start immediately.

“There’s still quite a lot of opposition because people just don’t want this in the Birks. But, long-term, it could be an interesting proposition.”

He added that community councillors were likely to make a decision by the end of the year on whether or not to hold another public vote.

Nobody from Aberfeldy Community Council was available to comment.

Plans for the hydro scheme were put on hold in December 2009 after Scottish Natural Heritage raised concerns about the potential impact on a rare, ancient woodland plant thriving in the area. However, a study funded by the laird later suggested the scheme would not harm the plants. Ogilvy Watson did not return calls from Scotland on Sunday.