BY LISA FALCONER
Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson has come under fire this week following his objection to plans for a single community wind turbine in Coigach, which he says will “break the virginity” of the area.
The application, submitted by Coigach Wind Power, is for the erection of a single 900kW turbine standing 77 metres from base to blade tip on land north of a water treatment works at Achvraie near Achiltibuie. By the time the deadline for comments on the application closed last Friday, 475 public comments had been submitted — among them one from Mr Stevenson, a vocal opponent of green energy.
In his objection, Mr Stevenson refers to the application as an “astonishingly inappropriate proposal”, adding: “The impacts on precious habitats and protected species are also of concern and I will not hesitate to inform my colleagues at the European Commission should this proposal be consented. There are numerous species such as sea eagles and golden eagles which reside in the area and they are protected under the EU Birds Directive. The visual impacts on one of Scotland’s most scenic areas are obvious and the damage done to the local tourist industry will be catastrophic. This is an absurd proposal which must be rejected.”
In response Alison Sinclair, chair of Coigach Wind Power, wrote to Mr Stevenson to clarify points raised in his “inaccurate email”. She wrote: “The proposed turbine is at the edge of the broad settlement of Coigach, where humans have already made their mark. It would not be seen from 96 per cent of the land mass of the NSA (National Scenic Area) and in the great scheme of things is a temporary structure with a far shorter lifespan than a house or even the Scottish Water treatment works agricultural shed adjacent to the site.
“You, incorrectly, state your concern in your email of objection that ‘impact on deep peat alone would be devastating’ when peat deposits on the proposed site are shallow. Indeed if you had taken the time to visit the area you would see that the site is not dissimilar to a lunar landscape, with rocks protruding all over the carefully-chosen site.”
Mrs Sinclair added that a survey of birdlife was carried out as part of the 120-page environmental survey included in the application.
Mr Stevenson’s fellow MEP, Liberal Democrat George Lyon, expressed his support to the Coigach application. He said: “I helped the Gigha community buy-out and they benefited tremendously from the erection of the three wind turbines on the island as it generated enough income to secure the financial future of the community.
“What really is absurd is my fellow MEP spending all his time objecting to planning applications around Scotland without ever bothering to visit the site or speak to local people.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust, who have rented the proposed turbine site to the Coigach Community Development Group, have also backed the application. They say they “do not believe that there will be a significant impact to wildlife or the habitats present from this development”. Speaking to the Free Press this week Mr Stevenson said he “absolutely” stood by his objection. “A 77-metre-high turbine in a national scenic area like Coigach will break the virginity of the area and you will see more turbines going up – they breed like rabbits,” he said.
“I’m afraid that in times of economic crises rural areas do suffer, but areas like this are renowned for their natural beauty. Ruining it is like drawing a knife over the ‘Mona Lisa’.”
Mrs Sinclair said that overall Coigach Wind Power were “very pleased” with the comments received. She said: “In the 2010 ballot, 69 per cent of residents who voted were in support of the project. But of those 111 Coigach residents who expressed their opinion on the ePlanning site in the past few weeks, 88 per cent have given the project a solid thumbs up, with only 12 per cent against. Assuming both are representative results, it shows a 27.5 per cent growth in what was already strong support for the project among local residents.
“Inevitably the public consultation drew comments from far and wide, many from people who have little if any direct connection with Coigach, but again on balance the comments were strongly in support of the project proceeding despite there being an organised campaign against the project and not a little misinformation.
“We now look forward to the next stage in the process for our planning application and look forward to the day, hopefully, when our turbine starts turning and doing its bit to turn our community’s fortunes around.”
See also: Huge support for Coigach wind turbine