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Caithness wind farm decision 'a big missed opportunity' but objectors claim plan 'a gross act of vandalism.'

By Gordon Calder

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A DECISION by Highland Council to reject an eight-turbine wind farm at Hill of Forss near Thurso has been branded "a big missed opportunity for the local workforce, businesses and the environment".

RES, the energy company behind the proposed project at Cairnmore Hill, said schemes such as this needed to be supported to help Scotland hit its climate change targets.

The area where the proposed wind farm would be built
The area where the proposed wind farm would be built

But Highland councillor Matthew Reiss said there were "hundreds and hundreds of objections" to the plan and said the message from the community was "very loud and very clear".

He was speaking after the local authority turned down the application under delegated powers after a majority of Thurso and Northeast Caithness councillors agreed with the official recommendation to reject the proposal. Objectors described the proposal as "a gross act of vandalism".

RES said the wind farm, located 4.5 kilometres north-west of Thurso, is in an area identified by Highland Council as having "potential for wind farm development". The company said the project would deliver around £2.2 million of inward investment to the area in jobs, employment and use of local services, with about £12 million going to Highland Council in business rates during the operational life of the wind farm.

Cairnmore Hill would be capable of generating low carbon renewable energy for around 37,000 homes, it was stated. The maximum tip height of the turbines would be 138.5 metres.

Paula Batchelor, project manager for RES, said: "Naturally, we’re disappointed by the council’s decision but it’s also a big missed opportunity for the local workforce, businesses and our environment.

"We’re also frustrated that this important decision was taken by Highland Council without the project going to a planning committee, especially given they have backed the need for a green recovery to meet our climate change commitments."

She added: "In the year that COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, comes to Scotland, there has never been a greater need to take positive, environmental and economic decisions to tackle this issue.

"We need projects like Cairnmore Hill to help us achieve that and to support Scotland’s longer-term goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2045."

Mr Reiss, a Thurso and Northwest Caithness Highland councillor, rejected claims about the local authority not helping with the green recovery and climate change initiatives.

"That is absolute nonsense," he said. "This area is contributing more to renewable energy than possibly anywhere in Scotland."

On jobs, Mr Reiss acknowledged employment would be created during the construction phase but claimed only one maintenance job is created for every 18 turbines and said the Beatrice offshore wind farm produces more energy than all the existing onshore ones in Caithness.

John Crofts, of the Action Against Cairnmore Windfarm campaign group, said: "Nearly 700 individuals lodged objections to this proposal on a variety of visual, economic and environmental grounds. I believe this represents, not only an extremely strong objection to this gross act of vandalism, but also a growing resentment in Caithness to the continued trashing of our county by southern and overseas business interests.

"People are starting to say enough is enough – this has to stop."

He said the objectors are relieved by the decision but think RES will appeal to the Scottish Government in a bid to overturn it.

However, local resident Jordan Crawford was "really surprised" by the outcome.

He said: "I hope they find a way to move the project forward as, personally, I think it would provide great opportunities for the community and local businesses."

RES has three months to appeal. The company said it would "carefully review" the reasons for refusal before deciding its next steps.

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