Caithness wind farm campaigner challenges First Minister to listen to views of local people
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A CAITHNESS wind farm campaigner has challenged Nicola Sturgeon to "put her money where her mouth is" when it comes to listening to the views of local people.
Brenda Herrick says communities in the far north and elsewhere in the country "are being ignored and their voices not heard" when it comes to decisions on wind farms. "It is like living in a dictatorship rather than a democracy," she said.
Mrs Herrick, who stays in Castletown, pointed out that last year the First Minister was quoted as saying: "Power comes from people, not from politicians. The will of the people in any country has to prevail."
Mrs Herrick said: "If Nicola Sturgeon believes that then she has to put it into practice. She should put her money where her mouth is. If she does not believe that then she should not say it." Mrs Herrick maintains there is a lack of democracy in the planning process and stresses there are no equal rights of appeal. A developer can appeal a decision but objectors cannot appeal a consent unless they have plenty money. It is not a level playing field. I think the government's attitude needs to change to respect the will of the people."
Mrs Herrick has written to the local Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour candidates in May's election to get their views on the planning process and believes the issue could play a part in who represents the area in Holyrood.
She says there were nine occasions when wind farms in Caithness were approved despite opposition from local groups and Highland Council but claims their views were "completely ignored by the government."
"It is now generally accepted that if a council refuses a windfarm application the developer will come back later with an appeal or a fresh application. On the rare occasions that the Minister refuses, as happened with Limekiln and Drum Hollistan, they simply come back with another application. Developers stand to make so much money they will do anything rather than give up."
Mrs Herrick stated: "One of the shocking aspects of the planning system is that an extension to a large windfarm, however small the extension, is treated as a Section 36 and so is decided by the minister. If it was a separate windfarm that size it would be a council decision. We believe that extensions like this should require the original windfarm to be reconsidered along with its extension since the result is a larger windfarm than was originally consented."
She is also concerned wind farms are getting larger and taller with some proposed in Dumfries and Galloway 250 metres in height.
Molly Nolan, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross seat at next month's Scottish parliamentary elections, has taken up the matter with Scottish energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse. She wrote him after the 19 wind turbine development at Golticlay, near Lybster was approved by the government despite being rejected by Highland Council.
She said: "It is frankly outrageous that the Scottish Government is continuing to approve large wind farm developments while local people are standing up in their droves and telling you it is not right.
I implore you to listen, to take local concerns seriously, and to cease over-ruling our local communities and the Highland Council in planning decisions."