Residents face 'corporate bullying' over wind farms in Reay area, says councillor
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A Caithness councillor has claimed that residents in the Reay area are being subjected to "corporate bullying" over the scale of wind farms planned for the surrounding area.
Councillor Matthew Reiss said villagers fear being almost encircled by turbines and he accused renewable energy companies of "utter insensitivity to the wishes of local people".
He was speaking after an appeal was lodged to the Scottish Government against Highland Council's refusal of planning permission for the Drum Hollistan 2 development between Reay and Melvich.
The proposal from Drum Hollistan Renewables LLP consists of seven turbines with a total generating capacity of 35 megawatts. It was rejected in September because of the visual impact and because it would be detrimental to an area designated as wild land.
Another energy company, Infinergy, has consent for 21 turbines at Limekiln, south of Reay, and has applied for an extension of five more.
Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness, said: "As the residents of Reay have been saying for years, they fear being almost surrounded by turbines. They now have two wind farms waiting for public local inquiries, namely Drum Hollistan and the Limekiln extension.
"They also now have the probability of much larger turbines offshore, so any reasonably balanced person would conclude that folk in Reay have a great deal to feel bitter about.
"I'm still asking the Scottish Government if it will carry out some research on the effects of multiple onshore wind farms and there is still silence.
"There was a very thoughtful letter in the John O'Groat Journal last week from Veda Johnstone of Thurso, and her last paragraph said: 'Wind turbines are destroying our county’s beauty and it’s time a proper study of the effects on locals was carried out.'
"Veda Johnstone summed it up perfectly. It's not only time a study on the effects on locals was carried out, but it's overdue.
"I'm talking about the effects on people applying for planning permission for developments, tourism, the North Coast 500, people's mental health... there is quite a long list."
Councillor Reiss added: "In relation to the fact that the wind farm was refused by Highland Council and the developers have now appealed to the Scottish Government, I've come to the conclusion that there's a form of what I would term corporate bullying of a small village. Wind farm developments have been waiting to be decided for years now, all around Reay, and it is corporate bullying – that's all it is.
"It is just an utter insensitivity to the wishes of local people and the economic prospects for the village and surrounding area. It has gone on for so long and now they've got another two public inquiries to wait for, and meanwhile they're all in limbo."
An earlier 17-turbine Drum Hollistan scheme was refused planning consent in June 2019 following a public local inquiry. It was dealt with by Scottish ministers under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, as it was above 50 MW.
The seven turbines in the updated proposal would each have a generating capacity of up to 5MW and an overall blade tip height of 125m.
The decision to lodge an appeal came as no surprise to wind farm campaigner Brenda Herrick.
"That's what they've done with Limekiln," said Mrs Herrick, of Caithness Windfarm Information Forum. "Limekiln was refused first time round because it was a bit too big.
"Limekiln came back with a new application with fewer turbines and then, as soon as that was approved, they added the extension which would actually bring it to more than the original refused application.
"Normally the Limekiln extension at five turbines would be a council decision. But because it's attached to the first Limekiln it is the minister's decision.
"It's almost inevitable, it seems now, that they either appeal or they come back with a new application. This second Drum Hollistan one is so much smaller that it probably will get through this time and then they'll come back with a few more later."
She added: "It will be very visible from the North Coast 500 so it's not great from that point of view.
"I just feel that if this is consented they'll try and gradually creep it up to the original number.
"We have this saying that once an area is trashed, you might as well carry on trashing it – and that tends to be what happens.
"The other problem with ministerial decisions is that they take so long sometimes and it just prolongs the whole thing."
The Drum Hollistan 2 application attracted 87 objections and 76 comments in support.
Those objecting claim the turbines will be too close to Reay and Melvich, will reduce local house values and quality of life, will be a blot on the landscape and will have a detrimental effect on tourism, and they say the disadvantages will outweigh any benefits.
Arguments in favour of the scheme include that it is an appropriate location for a wind farm, will help meet renewable energy targets and will bring jobs to the area as well as supporting local projects.
Mrs Herrick feels strongly that community benefit should not be taken into account in the planning process as it is not a material planning consideration and amounts to bribery.
"Community benefit is not allowed to be discussed in the planning process – it is expressly forbidden," she said. "It's not a material planning consideration so it shouldn't come into the equation.
"It shouldn't be discussed and it's obviously bribery. The Scottish Government should not allow developers to offer huge bribes to get people to support their applications."
She also highlighted a recent comment from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who was reported as saying: “Power comes from people, not from politicians. The will of the people in any country has to prevail.”
Mrs Herrick said: "She is, of course, talking about independence but it's a different matter when it comes to planning decisions – the will of the people doesn't matter."
Drum Hollistan Renewables LLP has been invited to comment.