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Community leader vows to fight 'ring of steel'

By Mike Merritt

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Colin Gilmour of Rosehall
Colin Gilmour of Rosehall

RESIDENTS in Rosehall have warned they face being surrounded by a ‘ring of steel’ with yet another wind farm proposed near the village.

If the scheme for Croick Estate near Ardgay is given permission it will mean that there will be around 80 turbines surrounding Rosehall – with five windfarms either already in operation or in the pipeline.

The Croick scheme with 21 turbines on the Strathoykel ridge line is the biggest so far for the area.

The project follows the recent decision by Scottish ministers to approve controversial plans for 18 turbines at Braemore, six kilometres south-west of Lairg.

The wind farm attracted 430 objections which raised concerns about the impact on the surrounding scenery and tourism but Scottish Government-appointed reporter Dan Jackman said it would not affect tourism, despite admitting the 126-metre turbines would cause "significant visual change" from the nearby Carbisdale Castle.

The report also stated that a "wind farm landscape" would not be created, despite it being near the operational Rosehall and Achany wind farms and six miles from the proposed Meall Buidhe on the Croick Estate.

Achany Windfarm, which has been running for seven years, has 19 turbines; Rosehall Windfarm, which has been operational since 2013, also has 19 turbines while Lairg Windfarm has three.

Now Meall Buidhe Renewables LLP wants to develop a windfarm on Croick Estate. It says it is a partnership comprising members of Scotland’s agricultural sector who have ambitions to help Scotland meet its energy requirements "through utilising the country’s abundant wind resource."

"The partners aim to develop, build and operate wind energy projects throughout the northeast and north of Scotland, whilst keeping and building strong relationships with local communities," it says.

Representatives of the developers last month gave an initial presentation to Creich Community Council, which was attended by around 30 Rosehall residents. It is believed that Croick Estate’s owners James and Carol Hall did not attend.

A public exhibition is to be held in Ardgay and Rosehall village halls later this month.

But well-known Rosehall resident, Lt Col Colin Gilmour, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland, whose family have lived in the village since 1890, warned that there would be a strong campaign against the latest scheme.

"It comes to the point when enough is enough and we are after that point now. People were annoyed, frustrated and disappointed by the Braemore decision and will be even more so with this scheme coming on," he said.

"We would be encircled if this goes ahead. Rosehall seems to be a honeypot for windfarms because of its access to the grid connections. Nowhere else in the Highlands has such a development of them.

"There is an understandable feeling amongst many Rosehall residents, and indeed from the local area, that Rosehall is being used as a punchbag for windfarms by landowners and developers.

"The community is being gradually enveloped, indeed almost strangled. To the north east and east, Achany and Rosehall wind farms are already visible and operative close by, with their turbines often very audible at several houses during certain wind conditions.

"With Braemore now consented to the south east, it is to all intents an extension of Achany reaching down the spine of ground towards Linside and Inveran. Then to the west of Rosehall, a decision is awaited on Caplich following a Public Inquiry in September this year.

"To make matters even worse, there is a proposal for a large development of 21 turbines on Croick estate, all sited facing Rosehall, instead of alternatively positioning them further west over the ridge which runs up the Kyle of Sutherland, where they would not be visible."

Lt Col Gilmour, the son of war hero Colonel Sir Allan Gilmour, who served with the Seaforth Highlanders and won the Military Cross for his heroism in the Battle of El Alamein, added: "All Rosehall residents and those from the Kyle of Sutherland and Altass attending the presentation by the Croick developer spoke out vehemently against any such development, citing a large number of reasons, including wind farm overkill in Rosehall, the effect on house prices, concerns over selling houses and whether it is worth carrying out improvements, noise and the overall loss of local amenity.

"One made the point that it was apparent that the local people did not matter any longer."

Russell Taylor, community council treasurer, said: "It is fair to say we (the community council) do not approve of an further developments of windfarms in area. It really is over developed.

"We had expected Braemore to be turned down but it went ahead and as far as I can see the Scottish Government is steamrollering every one, including the Altnaharra one. It really is a disgrace. The community benefit is not all that much and it has meant that no one raises funds any longer. They all hold their hands out. It is very sad."

Public consultations will take place throughout autumn and next spring after which the findings will be incorporated with an application to the Scottish Government expected in autumn 2018.

Meall Buidhe Renewables LLP says: "The partners have been involved in a number of successful projects over the past decade. A strong emphasis has been placed on working together with local landowners to deliver the benefits of renewable energy to rural businesses, whilst an effort has also been made to provide an opportunity to local communities to get involved in projects.

"Meall Buidhe Renewables LLP is keen to offer the same opportunities to the local communities surrounding Rosehall, Oykel Bridge, Culrain and Ardgay and believes that the Croick Estate has great potential to make a significant contribution to Scotland’s renewable energy targets.

"The wind farm proposal is a result of extensive environmental and technical studies that have been undertaken to reveal the landscape’s ability to sensitively harness the high wind speeds available in Sutherland.

"Initial feasibility studies revealed that the Meall Buidhe Wind Farm project could consist of up to 21 wind turbines with an overall generating capacity of over 60MW. The proposed wind turbines would each have a generating capacity of at least 3MW and a maximum tip height of up to 120m.

"The development would generate sufficient electricity to meet the average annual electricity demands of approximately 38,845 households.

"Through undertaking a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment, areas of sensitive ecological habitats, deep peatland, watercourses and other environmentally sensitive areas will be avoided.

"If planning permission is granted a substantial community benefits package would be set up to provide an annual fund available to the local community."

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