BY LISA FALCONER
Plans for a single community wind turbine in Coigach have so far attracted 169 public comments, the vast majority of which are in favour of the scheme.
Coigach Wind Power submitted the planning application to Highland Council following a lengthy consultation process which included a community ballot showing 68 per cent of local residents were in favour of the scheme. If given the go-ahead, revenue from the single 900kW turbine — which would stand 77 metres from base to blade tip — will be used to secure the future of the community through schemes identified by residents as a priority. These include pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision.
The area is considered fragile, having lost major employers the Hydroponicum and Summer Isles Foods in recent years, and one of two shops in the area, Polbain Stores, recently closed. In addition, the roll at Achiltibuie Primary School has fallen to just 13, with a lack of affordable housing being blamed for forcing young people and families out of the area.
Despite this, the turbine application — which includes a 120-page environmental impact assessment — has been attacked by campaign group Protect Wild Scotland. The group are led by directors Jenny Scobie, owner of the Rhidorroch Estate near Ullapool, and anti-wind turbine campaigner Don Staniford who is also an outspoken critic of marine fish farming. A heavily-edited photo claiming to show how the single wind turbine would look has been circulated, giving rise to objections from people claiming it would lower house prices, affect the status of the Assynt-Coigach National Scenic Area and ruin the tourism industry.
These claims have been dismissed by Linda MacLeod, a voluntary director of the Coigach Community Development Group, and operator of five holiday homes in the area. She said: “I have no worries about the impact on tourism. There are much bigger threats to the area than a single wind turbine — for example the closure of major employers the Hydroponicum and Summer Isles Foods in recent years. There needs to be a community for people to visit and to offer the whole package. This is a living, breathing place and most people appreciate that it is a community and not just a holiday park and would hate to see it die.
“We need affordable housing and work to be able to live here and money from the turbine will support that. It is community-led — we held a ballot and it showed the support — but those against it are quite vocal.”
On their website, Coigach Wind Power rebut several of the more common objections, including claims that the turbine will intrude on views from locations such as Gruinard Bay, An Teallach, Suilven and Stac Pollaidh. The posting states: “It would appear from several of the comments made and other information we have received that objectors have been sought out and provided with information upon which to base their objections, including a spurious exaggerated ‘telephoto’ photomontage and other intentionally misleading information.”
Alison Hitchings, chair of the community-owned Coigach Wind Power Ltd, said: “This is a project about community resilience and sustainability and is driven forward by our desire to maintain our vibrant community without compromising our fantastic environment in any material way. Budget cuts and lack of public funding means our local authority and other agencies are no longer willing to invest in business infrastructure, piers, new housing or our services. We feel confident that our single community-owned turbine, with low visibility from within our NSA and the neighbouring NSA 15 kilometres across the sea, will sit well in the landscape and not detract from the pleasure of all those who love the area like we do.
“A ballot conducted by Coigach Community Council showed strong local support for the project as do most of the comments on the Highland Council e-planning portal. Of those who are objecting, over 90 per cent do not live locally, and virtually none of them are known to us.”
Coigach Community Council have also given their support to the project.
Some of the comments posted on Highland Council’s e-planning portal:
Dr Martin Latham Several local residents, at least one of whom is a member of a local family who have lived in and around the site for generations, have asked for my views. although I am merely a frequent visitor, I am typical of holidaymakers who can see that, beneath all the beauty of the area, there is desparate need for infrastructure regeneration as shops struggle and school rolls fall. This turbine will help secure a future for the area as more than a picture on a calendar and playground for the rich.
Ms Camille Bartlett I have just been informed of this and I must say that I thought that it was initially a joke. I once lived in the area and I now visit twice annually for the unmatched beauty of the surroundings. Any application like this, let only one which would measure over 250ft high, must not go ahead for if it did it would remove the majesty of the place overnight. I would also not really wish to visit again.
Mr K Macleod Local all my life and fully support this project. This will give far more benefits to this fragile area, it’s becoming an area for rich retired people or second holiday homes used one week a year, at least it will generate income and the locals have voted in favour of this scheme.
Mrs Michele Drake As full time resident of Coigach and with 100 per cent of my income being derived from tourism. I support the proposed community owned wind turbine for Coigach.
Mr Alex D This is a disgrace. How about the applicants try earning a living like the rest of us instead of sponging off the state? It’s schemes like this that we all pay for in our expensive bills. What makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall is seeing people actually believe the blurb put out by the developers. People, wake up! Wind is a dud and this is an area of tranquility, not turbines. Planners, you have a responsibility to keep it that way. I trust you will do so.
Mr & Mrs Yungyung & Anna Merton-Kan As visitors to Coigach for 50+ and 30+ years, and part-owners of a holiday house in the area, we have seen many changes in the fortunes of the community over the decades. Recent events such as the loss of the smokehouse and Polbain shop, the deterioration of the piers, and the fall in the school roll, have filled us with concern. New funds are now urgently needed to boost the local economy, and the well-researched wind turbine project offers hope for the future. We are aware of the negatives, as are most other supporters, but this does not stop us strongly supporting the application, as we believe the wind turbine income will benefit the local community greatly.
Ms. Wendy Gediman Originally being from California, where we have many wind turbines up and running, I must say that one wind turbine will benefit the Coigach community. This is a way to add sustainable energy to the community’s use, which is a positive step to securing the well-being of the future for this beautiful place. Surely, one wind turbine will not take away from the beauty, but will go far for preserving it in future.
Mr Brian Gregson I visited Achiltibuie a few years ago whilst attending the European Geoparks Network Conference hosted by North West Highland Geopark. I was struck by a deep sense of a forward-looking but fragile community, justifiably proud of the stunning landscape surrounding them. I fully and enthusiastically support Coigach Wind Power Ltd and Coigach Community Development Company in their efforts to sustain this community by the provision of a wind turbine. It is exactly the scale and type of local development, generating both power and income at source, which should be encouraged in small isolated, rural areas. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the massive commercial windfarm of over 100 much larger turbines which is being proposed in Shetland!
Miss Sophie King 0.11 GW currently being produced from over 4000 turbines and demand is 34 GW. So the thought of desecrating an area like Achiltibuie for that is just so sad I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If the CCDC had any real desire to invigorate the community then they wouldn’t touch wind turbines with a barge pole.