Anger as Uist community wind turbine scheme is rejected

The Scottish Government’s rejection of a renewable energy development planned for North Uist has been described as a “kick in the teeth” for the regeneration of the island.

North Uist was dealt a bitter blow with the announcement on Thursday by the Scottish Government that they are refusing planning permission for North Uist Development Company’s wind turbine development at Locheport.

This two-turbine project has taken four years to reach this point — and the development company had high hopes that the scheme would have proved highly lucrative for the local community.

The NUDC said the project would have delivered a cash benefit to the island in excess of £200,000 annually for 15 years, rising to more than £450,000 in the years after that — a massive injection of funds which could have made an enormous difference to the lives of people in the community.

However, the Ministry of Defence objected to the project on the grounds that wind turbines at the chosen location might cause interference to Hebrides Range radar systems. This was despite the fact that in 2010 the MoD had assured NUDC that they would have no objection to the project.

The MoD intervention triggered a protracted process, with a public enquiry and a referral by the Scottish Government, the result of which we have this week.

As well as the two community wind turbines in North Uist, a wind turbine proposed for the Dark Island Hotel on Benbecula and two proposed for Bornish, South Uist have also been rejected. The NUDC slammed the decision— reserving notable criticism for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s handling of the case.

“We feel that the North Uist community has been dealt an extremely bad hand here,” said Robert Fraser, chair of the development company. “We are now virtually the only community in the islands which is not able to derive community benefit from the great wind resource we have. It is incredibly disappointing for all those who have worked on this project since 2009 when a community-sponsored feasibility study identified our wind resource as our best hope for community regeneration.

“This really is a kick in the teeth for North Uist, which will do nothing to stem population decline in our island, nothing to tackle unemployment and lack of opportunity for our young people and nothing to help make the lives of our older people more comfortable and enjoyable.

“I have to say we feel very let down by the lack of support from the comhairle which, although it did eventually support our application in a vote of members, has issued a statement following this week’s Scottish Government announcement which makes barely any mention of the loss to the community this decision represents and more or less blames the community and NUDC for the protracted nature of the planning process.

“Coming hard as it does on the heels of the comhairle’s decision to force us out of the former head teacher’s house in Bayhead and force the closure of the community resource and fledgling business centre we were just beginning to develop there, we do wonder if there is a pattern here and whether such flagrant disregard for the wishes of the community would be the norm if we were 50 miles nearer Stornoway, where most of the councillors’ votes are to be found.

“In terms of where we go from here, the directors of NUDC will be meeting as soon as possible to discuss our options, and we have already been assured by Community Energy Scotland that their resources will continue to be available to us, for which we are grateful. One thing we will certainly want to consider is that the community of North Uist is being denied the opportunity to benefit from its natural resources because of alleged interference with an air defence radar which is operated by the UK Government.

“On that basis it is only right that the UK Government compensates North Uist for the loss which we will incur over the next 20 years. Of one thing people can be sure — we exist to facilitate economic and cultural development in North Uist, and we will continue to do that with all possible vigour.”

In a statement which angered those behind the North Uist plans, comhairle leader Angus Campbell said: “Given the MoD’s stated position regarding further new turbines in areas visible to radar on the Uists, the decisions are not altogether surprising. The delay in the decision-making process to get to this point has certainly been frustrating for the developers concerned, the communities affected and indeed for comhairle members.

“From today, I seriously hope that we can work with the MoD to identify areas where wind turbine development can be accommodated and continue to investigate the possibilities of mitigation or measures that can allow development of the radar constrained areas for the future. I would expect the Scottish Ministers’ assistance to facilitate these discussions with the MoD.”

Kenneth Murray, chair of the comhairle’s environment and protective services committee, added: “The decisions taken by the Scottish Ministers are contrary to the wishes of my committee. However, they are consistent with the advice given by our planning officials. We now have to move on and ensure that we all do what we can to ensure that we do not find ourselves in long, protracted planning decision-making processes again.

“We are in the position now that requires affected communities to carefully plan turbine proposals where there is the least constraint, as there seems to be no immediate fix to the impacts of turbines on MoD radars.”