BY LISA FALCONER
Councillors this week gave unanimous planning consent for a community wind turbine in Coigach in Wester Ross which had attracted hundreds of public comments both for and against the application.
Submitted by community group Coigach Wind Power, the application for a single 900kW turbine standing 77 metres tall at Achvraie, Achiltibuie, was passed by Highland Council’s north planning committee on Tuesday.
The news was greeted with delight in Achiltibuie, with CWP project officer Peter Muir calling it “a major milestone” for the project. He added that there was still a long way to go, however, until the project was up and running. Mr Muir said, having looked at similar ventures, that it could be two to four years before the turbine is operational.
Coigach Wind Power chair Alison Hitchings added: “We are delighted to have this consent in place which will allow us to move on with the project and deliver the financial benefits it will provide for the Coigach community.”
Work has been ongoing on the community project since at least 2006, planning officer Dorothy Stott told members of the committee on Tuesday. She added that in addition to providing a lengthy environmental statement, discussions had been held with Scottish Natural Heritage to find the best position for the turbine and no consultees had raised objections to the scheme.
As well as a community ballot held in 2010, which showed 68 per cent of local residents were in favour of the scheme, the application attracted 320 public comments in support, plus a petition signed by 33 people. Meanwhile, 256 objections were received objecting to the plans, many of which came from outwith the area – including Germany and Spain – something East Sutherland and Edderton councillor
Graham Phillips said “really doesn’t wash”. He added that it was a community development which was “vitally” needed and gave his full backing to the scheme.
Proceeds from the scheme are set to be fed into local projects such as pier restoration, social housing and workshop provision, but those opposing the plans believe it will have a detrimental effect on tourism as well as affecting the National Scenic Area designation for Assynt-Coigach.
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Audrey Sinclair said that given the stunning scenery of the area she could understand why the application had attracted such a vast number of comments. However, Coigach is “a community on the edge” she said, noting that the latest Census results had shown an 11 per cent drop in the population of Achiltibuie. She added that this was a community project — with the backing of the vast majority of local residents, and the benefits to be ploughed back locally — and that “anything to improve and keep it viable, the better”.
Her fellow ward councillor, Biz Campbell, said that in Coigach “enthusiasm has been second to none” for the scheme. “It is a local enterprise generating power and income, helping to sustain a very very fragile local community,” she said. “I fully support this application and admire the community for their enterprise and what they are doing for the area.”
Mr Muir extended his thanks to SNH, Atmos Consulting, laywers Harper MacLeod and all the volunteers involved in the project over the years.
There was further good news for the area with the approval of a planning application for the Ben Mor hydro scheme, a joint venture between the Coigach Community Development Company and Ben Mor Estate landowners the Scottish Wildlife Trust.