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Clarification needed on £10 million community benefit fund, says far north councillor

By Gordon Calder

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A far north councillor wants clarification on "a lot of grey areas" regarding a £10 million community benefit fund for areas in the Highlands and other parts of the country.

Ron Gunn, a representative for the Thurso and Northwest Caithness ward, acknowledged the £10 million is " a large sum of money" but said it covers "a fairly large area." He would like more information about how the funding is to be spent and what communities will benefit.

SSEN Transmission claims the money will have "a lasting positive economic impact in the region" and be "spent on delivering a sustainable and positive legacy for the communities that are hosting large net zero infrastructure assets in the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Orkney, Shetland, Angus and Argyll." The funding will be spent on what is described as "community-led initiatives."

Ron Gunn says "a lot of grey areas" need to be clarified.
Ron Gunn says "a lot of grey areas" need to be clarified.

Mr Gunn, the chairman of the Caithness Committee of Highland Council, said: "The money should help a bit but there are a lot of grey areas which need to be clarified." He also pointed out there have been concerns about the route of the transmission network.

Communities across the Highlands have been angered by plans to install a new 400 kilovolt (kV) overhead power line from Spittal in Caithness to Beauly, via Loch Buidhe in Sutherland. Objectors say the project – part of SSEN’s £7 billion Pathway to 2030 upgrade of UK energy infrastructure in the north of Scotland – would damage the natural beauty of the Highlands, with some arguing that there is no evidence that the new power lines are needed. Another high voltage line is planned from Peterhead to Beauly, linking with the existing Beauly to Denny pylon line.

Objectors say the overhead power lines will damage the natural beauty of the Highlands
Objectors say the overhead power lines will damage the natural beauty of the Highlands

But supporters say the development will help economic growth in the region and claim investment in electricity networks are essential for local supply chains and to make progress towards net-zero.

Earlier this year, SSEN Transmission launched a consultation to seek views on plans for its first ever community benefit scheme.

The six-week long consultation concluded with the company receiving around 170 responses from local residents and other interested parties with over 70 per cent of those who responded indicating their support for the initiative.

SSEN Transmission’s community team will analyse the feedback before publishing a detailed report on the consultation in October. After that, the company will work with various groups and organisations to establish how the fund will be governed and investment decisions made before launching the fund in early 2024.

The company’s director of customers and stakeholders, Christianna Logan, said: "It’s really important that we recognise the vital role that communities are already playing by hosting critical national infrastructure, and getting this fund up-and-running will be a big step in doing just that.

"The initial £10 million plus will have a lasting positive economic impact in the region and we’re excited to be working with communities and other stakeholders to make sure that investment decisions are made wisely."

Meanwhile, SSEN Transmission is working with the UK and Scottish Governments to establish a community benefit framework for projects that are currently being consulted on and are due to be delivered by the end of the decade and beyond.

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