Published: 11/09/2008 00:00 - Updated: 29/11/2011 16:47

Angry residents threaten sit-down protest on A9

IN a growing surge of anger and resentment at Scottish and Southern Energy's plans to transport the giant turbines and blades for their Gordonbush wind farm development along the A9 through Golspie and Brora, every resident in the area is being asked this week to write a strong letter of objection to the energy company. And Golspie Community Council member Valerie Scott (78), who lives on Main Street, said she would do "whatever it takes to stop this happening, even if it means a group of us have a sit-down protest in the middle of the A9." Around 80 people attended Monday's community council meeting in Golspie when the depth of feeling was evident. Community councillors and members of the public alike expressed their incredulity that SSE were intending to service the wind farm by taking equipment through the two villages, turning off at the Old School House in Brora and travelling on the scenic, single-track road past the former Clynelish Distillery up to Gordonbush. It had been assumed by all that the company would extend the route already earmarked for the Kilbraur wind farm, turning off the A9 at Drummuie. As part of the process to take the traffic through Strath Brora, SSE have applied for planning permission to partly demolish and reconstruct a wall at the Old School House, a listed building they own. At Monday's meeting in Golspie, although it was agreed there would be no harm circulating a petition against the route, it was felt that petitions were only recognised officially as one objection. It would be better if every individual wrote a letter of protest. It was agreed that two template letters should be drawn up, one objecting to the planning proposal to demolish the Old School House wall, and the other letter of objection being sent to the chief executive of SSE, Ian Marchant. These would be photocopied and would be available to pick up from Mrs Scott's home, Lonemore, Main Street, from this weekend onwards for each person to add their own name and address and send off. It was also agreed to send a petition to the Petitions Committee at Holyrood. The bombshell was dropped three weeks ago when SSE announced its preferred route in the Northern Times. Since then, Helmsdale, Brora, Golspie, Dornoch and Rogart Community Councils have pledged to fight the decision and local Highland councillors Deirdre Mackay and Ian Ross have urged community councils to speak urgently with SSE to get them to change their minds. At Monday's meeting, community council chairman Iain Miller said SSE were the only people who thought going through the villages was the best route. Allen Davidson said there would be "a massive amount of road furniture going through Golspie. It will have a tremendous impact on the Main Street road surface and foundations." Valerie Scott said: "I can see the tip of a blade ending up being poked through someone's bedroom window!" Mr Miller said that photographs of components being transported by Drummuie to the Kilbraur wind farm showed how massive they were, "and they are smaller than the ones going to Gordonbush". Robert Beaton said: "I just cannot understand why they are choosing this route when the infrastructure is already there for most of the way going via Drummuie. And it is already carrying wind farm traffic. It makes absolutely no sense at all." Mrs Scott said that over a 10-month period there will be 422 vehicles taking equipment which would span well over half the width of the road, which was only 6m 10cm outside her front door near the Co-op and was even narrower at Station Road. "There will be 130 tonnes spread over a 10-axle vehicle," she said. "It is not illegal, but can you imagine the magnitude of the effect on the road and the delay it will bring to traffic. It is estimated it will take an hour and a half to drive from the Cambusavie bends to Golspie. There will be an extra 20,000 vehicle movements on our roads over the 10-month period." She said community councils in Caithness and Orkney should also be contacted because of the effect on their journeys south. She added: "For goodness sake don't have a baby at this time, or let your house go on fire, as the emergency services won't be able to get through." Munro Macleod said that the main water pipe in Main Street was only 4ft below the surface. "It could affect that as well." Mr Miller thought the road may be damaged more by the vehicles carrying the aggregate than by those transporting the turbines. "The turbines are at least spread over 10 axles, but the vehicles carrying the aggregate will not be." Sutherland Estates factor Chris Whealing was asked directly if they were forcing SSE to take the Strath Brora route because they were seeking too high a sum in compensation for building a road over their land between Kilbraur and Gordonbush, as had been suggested. Mr Whealing said the estate were not the stumbling block in any way. "We sought independent advice on what we should charge, and in fact we have asked for less," he said. "The first I knew about them taking the other route was when it was in the paper. I think it is deplorable and totally unacceptable." Several people pointed out it would cost the energy company more to upgrade roads in Strath Brora than it would to extend the Kilbraur road, even though that would include building a new bridge. Councillor Ian Ross advised the community council to lobby SSE itself and not the Scottish Parliament. "It is too late to tackle parliament," he said. "SSE pride themselves on their community involvement and the support they give to local communities. Can they still say that when they realise the strength of feeling here against this route? I urge you all to write to the chief executive of SSE and tell them the impact this will have on communities." Mr Miller suggested that Brora and Golspie Community Councils try to arrange a public meeting with a representative of SSE as soon as possible. A spokeswoman for SSE, Morven Smith, told the NT yesterday (Thursday): "We have been trying to engage with the local community councils for some time now. We wrote to them around six months ago asking if we could meet to explain the community benefits we can offer and to explain why we are choosing the Strath Brora route, but we have not been able to take this forward. We are very keen to meet with them." * Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Jamie Stone has written to the SSE chief executive asking him to reconsider the route. He letter stated: "I have received strong representations from residents of Golspie and Brora regarding construction phase access to the Gordonbush wind farm, which has been approved by the Scottish Government. "The prospect of large parts of wind turbines and other equipment being transported through the centres of these two villages greatly worries people living in these locations particularly in terms of disturbance and traffic hold-ups. "The alternative available to SSE to use the existing access via the nearby Kilbraur wind farm, involving the construction of approximately two kilometres of coarse-surfaced track would seem to be a much better way forward for SSE and one that would demonstrate that your company does respond positively to local concerns."

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