Windfirm plans will not move air crash memorial

CAMPAIGNERS have won a fight to stop plans to move a memorial to victims of a WWII air crash to make way for a controversial windfarm.

The turbines will still restrict view of the memorial. Picture: Craig Stephen
The turbines will still restrict view of the memorial. Picture: Craig Stephen

Plans for the 13-turbine Bad a Cheo development at Achkeepster in Caithness was approved earlier this year, but on condition the cairn placed in memory of six airman who died is moved.

The plans by energy firm RWE had originally been rejected by Highland Council, but the decision was overturned by a Scottish Government Reporter.

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However, he said the memorial, which includes a plaque showing the location of the crash site, should be re-instated from a layby on the A9 Inverness-Thurso road in order for the windfarm development to proceed.

This proposal, though, was greeted with a furious reaction, including from members of the Royal British Legion in Thurso, who vowed to fight the removal “tooth and nail”.

RWE actually supported keeping the cairn in its original position, and submitted a formal application to Highland Council to drop the condition.

Their proposal received numerous letters of support, with the only letters of objection being made by anti-windfarm protesters opposed to the original windfarm plans.

At a meeting of the council’s north planning committee, officials recommended that the condition be waived, and this was unanimously supported.

However, locals are still annoyed that turbines will obstruct a clear view to the crash site.

Local Councillor Willie Mackay said: “It is a bitter sweet-victory. We obviously want the cairn to stay in place, but would also have liked the developer to agree to moving some turbines so they don’t block the view.

“Veterans in the area will be happy the memorial will stay in place, but hope the energy company maybe see sense in relocating some turbines.”

He described the Reporter’s original decision as showing “a desperate lack of sensitivity”

The B-17 Flying fortress crashed on the way back from a reconnaissance flight over the North Sea.

Four crewmen were killed in the crash while another two died later of their injuries. Two pilots, plus another undertaking training, survived the disaster.

An accident investigation suggested pilot error. The memorial was put in place in 1992.

Highland Council planner David Mudie said: “The representations received indicate support for the removal of the condition requiring relocation of the memorial.

“This does not suggest that it is the intervisibility and open relationship between the memorial and the crash site that is most important, rather it is the cultural significance of the effort and dedication of many people to put in place a physical marker to those that made the ultimate sacrifice in a time of war.

“The removal of the condition would not result in the development being incompatible with the development plan.”

A spokeswoman for RWE said a number of parties had requested the memorial be kept in its present location, adding: “RWE Innogy never proposed to re-site the war memorial.”

The Scottish Government Reporter, in overturning the council’s original rejection, said: “The crash site itself is a monument and the memorial a guide to it.

“The significance of the location of the memorial is that it allows those who care the opportunity to appreciate the location of the landscape of the crash site.

“The sense of desolation and openness would be seriously compromised by further turbines near the memorial, particularly as the southernmost turbines proposed would encroach on the views toward the crash site from the memorial.”

But he adds: “I consider that this is of such importance that it justifies requiring the memorial to be re-sited and adjusted as a condition of the permission.

“I note that there are other locations along the A9 which might be suitable and am content that this could be left to the parties to agree the detail.”

The turbine proposals for the site near Spittal were originally submitted by RWE Npower Renewables – now known as RWE Innogy – in July 2012 and the application was considered by Highland Council in September last year.

The devices will be 344ft high and the developers claim they could potentially generate a total of 32.5MW, potentially providing electricity to 20-30,000 homes.

Council planners recommended approval for the scheme but it was turned down on the casting vote of the north planning committee’s chairwoman, Councillor Isobel McCallum, after members were split six votes to six.

The plans attracted 23 letters of objection – including one from the RSPB – and eight in support.

The RSPB said it had concerns over the cumulative impact of windfarms in the area on populations of whooper swans and greylag geese.

RWE appealed the council decision, which was overturned by the Scottish Government Reporter.