Councillors have backed a controversial offshore wind turbine scheme – despite fears it will deter people moving to a Sutherland village.
Melvich Community Council said the turbines will wreck the stunning sea views across to Orkney which attract potential residents, and in turn the loss of new blood will also threaten the local school’s future.
Swedish design company Hexicon AB has sought permission from the Scottish government, Highland Council and Orkney Islands Council for the demonstration project.
The firm has set up Dounreay Trì Limited to develop the two turbine scheme.
The proposed site is about three miles out to sea from the Dounreay nuclear power complex in neighbouring Caithness.
The project, which involves two turbines with maximum 201 metres rotor blade tips and a maximum height of 124 metres above the lowest tide, would also involve laying a subsea cable and a substation.
The scheme came before Highland Council’s north planning applications committee on Tuesday which unanimously backed the recommendation by not raising any objection to the Scottish Government, which will have the final say.
However there were five representations made to the council mainly over the scheme’s visual impact in a scenic area.
Melvich Community Council, which was consulted by Marine Scotland, also raised concerns.
The council said the existing wind farm in its area, SSE’s Strathy North, as well as the proposed Strathy South wind farm, had shown “a good level of consideration” for the impact these turbines would have on the views of those who both live and visit the area. A community council statement read: “In comparison, the developers of this proposal have clearly shown no such consideration. The appeal for a number of residents who have moved to our area are the uninterrupted views across to Orkney. Should this proposal be approved the turbines, being of such a significant height, will have a substantial impact on these views.
“We expect this would put off any individuals who were considering moving to Melvich and Portskerra in the future. Related to the above point, it has been noted that wind farms can have a huge impact on the house prices in the areas to which they are visible.
“In a village like Melvich, where we are under threat of losing both our local school and care home in the future, this could bring a further drop in house prices. We would ask that sensitivity to the above concerns of our village be taken into consideration when making a decision on this proposal.”
Planning officer Emma Forbes accepted the scheme will have a “significant localised impact.”
In her report she said: “While it is acknowledged the proposal will have significant localised impact, given the small footprint of the offshore site, the predominantly long or very long separation distances and small proportion of the view affected and the containment of the development within the much wider panorama of coast and sea allow this to be viewed as acceptable in the wider landscape and seascape setting of the area.
“While acknowledging the concerns of third parties, the council’s landscape officer and SNH, the planning service considers the localised visual impacts of the proposal to be acceptable on balance.”
Recommending no objection should be raised, she suggested a number of conditions, including mitigating the project’s impact.
Various conservation bodies also raised no objections.
Around 100 jobs will be secured during the 12 months of construction and seven full time jobs will be created at Scrabster during its operation.
Councillor Margaret Paterson, who represents Dingwall and Seaforth, said: “I think this could be quite exciting. It’s a new concept of building turbines. It’s going to create jobs locally.”
Marcus Thor, project director for Dounreay Trì Limited, said: “We are delighted the council has agreed with this project and hope Marine Scotland and the Scottish government can take a timely decision on it.
“This demonstration facility which will be built and operated in Scotland opens up the possibility for a significant increase in offshore wind generation and associated supply chain benefits in Scotland.”
WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks said floating turbines could potentially provide Scotland with “clean power” in the future.
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Gail Ross (SNP) has welcomed the approval .
She said: “This is great news, the scheme offers the potential of around 107 jobs in my constituency, so to see it take a step further is very heartening. I am glad that the Highland council has taken this decision on the project.”