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Highland Council says some Wick trees may need to be cut back for turbine parts

By Alan Hendry

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Long-established trees around the fountain area at Wick riverside.
Long-established trees around the fountain area at Wick riverside.

Highland Council has admitted that some trees may need to be cut back as part of the proposed “ribbon lease” arrangements at Wick's riverside.

The local authority also acknowledges that if any long-established trees need to be chopped down completely they will be "replanted or if necessary replaced with a mature specimen".

The comments, supplied by the press office at Highland Council headquarters, appear to be at odds with an earlier assurance by council leader Raymond Bremner that "trees won't be cut down".

The local authority is consulting with the public on the lease arrangements. Community councillors were informed earlier this month that these would allow the town to benefit from up-front payments by any wind farm developers wishing to "oversail" common good land while transporting large turbine parts.

The proposed ribbon lease is a technical way for renewable energy developers to gain permission to transport large goods such as turbine blades that stretch beyond the boundaries of the public highway. Each developer requires permission to “oversail” the land in question.

The site under discussion is around Wick's historic fountain, below Station Road, on the south side of the river.

Three years ago tree-felling works were carried out at the riverside to allow huge wind turbine components to be carried through Wick on their way to ScottishPower Renewables’ wind farm site at Halsary, south of Spittal.

A wind turbine blade being taken down Station Road, above Wick's riverside area, on its way to the Halsary wind farm site in September 2020. Picture: Peter Sutherland
A wind turbine blade being taken down Station Road, above Wick's riverside area, on its way to the Halsary wind farm site in September 2020. Picture: Peter Sutherland

Councillor Bremner, who represents the Wick and East Caithness ward, explained the background to the consultation when he attended the November meeting of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council.

"What is a ribbon lease? For me it's just legal speak about leasing a particular part of land," he told community councillors. "In theory it's being leased by the company but it is still the community's – they just want to be able to oversail that land at a time that they're taking their blades over it.

"When they took their blades over it to start with we didn't get a penny. Now, any time that a company does look to do that, they will have to take out the ribbon lease and they will pay into the common good."

In a Facebook post dated November 2, encouraging the public to take part in the consultation, Councillor Bremner wrote: "There's no change to the common good land. There's no change to the accessibility of it. Trees won't be cut down. The land won't be sold. The blades will pass over the 'air' above it when they need to. We get the money for their ability to do so. Easy as that!"

But a Highland Council spokesperson, responding to questions from the John O'Groat Journal, said on November 15: “Some branches will require to be cut back and certain tree limbs may need to be lopped as a result of any developer oversailing this area.

"While it is not anticipated that any trees will require to be physically felled or removed, what we can say now is that if any mature trees do need to be felled rather than lopped, then they will be replanted or if necessary replaced with a mature specimen to respect the amenity of the area.

"It is understood this parcel of ground has been oversailed in the past, with minimal impact on the overall amenity of the area.”

Information on the consultation is available at www.highland.gov.uk/info/20010/community_planning/830/common_good_asset_changes

Written responses should be submitted either by email to common.good@highland.gov.uk or by post to Sara Murdoch, The Highland Council HQ, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness, IV3 5NX. Responses are sought by January 5, 2024.

The consultation document notes that Highland Council "has recently been approached by a wind farm company seeking an option to lease an area of land in Wick to oversail with turbines as part of a wind farm development".

It says investigations have confirmed that the area at Riverside Park is part of Wick common good land, having been acquired by the town council in 1900.

The document points out that Wick's common good fund was reactivated following investigations leading to the publication of a common good asset register in 2021.

"During the investigations common good property assets were identified, but no cash assets. As a result, the fund has limited revenue assets.

"The manner of rent arrangement for the oversail leases can vary from company to company both in nature of payment and value of payment. Therefore securing such leases would provide significant income generation opportunities for Wick common good fund."

The council says it is consulting on the proposal to allow general permission to negotiate and grant ribbon leases without requiring separate consultations in each case.

"The granting of such ribbon leases will not impact the use of the subjects as a public park and no physical occupation of the ground will take place. The land will be oversailed during the development, maintenance and decommissioning of the wind farms as when may be required."

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