The replacement power line will be a white elephant, says the John Muir Trust

The replacement power line will be a white elephant, says the John Muir Trust

The decision by the Scottish Government to give the go-ahead for a controversial electricity power line through some of the Highlands’ most spectacular mountain terrain has drawn swift condemnation by outdoor groups.

Enterprise minister Jim Mather told the Scottish Parliament there were ‘strong arguments’ in support of the project, which will see hundreds of giant pylons built on the route between Beauly, west of Inverness, to Denny, near Falkirk. The 220km (137-mile) 400kV line will replace a smaller line. Supporters say the scheme is essential to allow the transmission of renewable energy.

But opponents pointed out during an 11-month long public inquiry that much of the renewable power will come from offshore windfarms and a sea cable down Scotland’s east coast would have been a far preferable option.

However, the Scottish Green Party and Scottish Labour supported the plan, and the Scottish National Party minister gave the green light to the line today, saying: “I have granted consent to upgrade the power line between Beauly and Denny, which is key to unlocking the vast renewable energy potential in the north of Scotland.”

The line will cut through the Cairngorms National Park and will be visible from a huge number of mountains in the Highlands.

Mountaineering Council of Scotland chief officer David Gibson said: “Future generations will judge whether this is the correct decision, made against a background of nearly 18,000 objections, the damage to the landscape, and the lack of examination of alternative options.”

MCofS president Chris Townsend: landscape is precious and irreplaceable

MCofS president Chris Townsend: landscape is 'precious and irreplaceable'

MCofS president Chris Townsend said: “We express great disappointment at the decision: the pylon line will damage the precious and irreplaceable Scottish mountain landscape.”

The decision also drew condemnation from Ramblers Scotland. Director Dave Morris said: “The Scottish Government claims to be a European leader in clean green energy but no other European country would surely permit such a power line to be built through its wildest, most beautiful countryside.

“This has been a deeply flawed planning process with no effective scrutiny of suitable alternatives, including a potential east coast power line upgrade and subsea options. The public inquiry left Scottish politicians in a ‘take it or leave’ situation with no options and no plan for what is required in the development of the Scottish grid as a whole.

“It is likely to be many years before work can start on the Beauly-Denny power line. During that time potential legal challenge to the minister’s decision as well as a potential rethink on whether Beauly-Denny is the best value-for-money option are clouds on the horizon for the developers.

“Those seeking election to the next Westminster and Holyrood parliaments need to be asked where they stand on the Beauly-Denny planning decision and whether there are other reasons why this massive assault on the wild land of Scotland should be abandoned.”

The John Muir Trust joined in the chorus of condemnation from the outdoor community. Helen McDade, head of policy, said: “Marching a 220km mega pylon line though some of our most world-renowned landscapes may be the most lucrative option for the energy industry but it is the wrong choice for Scotland.

“It is particularly galling that this white elephant is being given the go-ahead in a week when the UK Government will announce another generation of offshore wind farms. This, combined with plans for a European subsea supergrid, completely destroys any rationale for bringing electricity produced in the north of Scotland, and destined for consumption in England, overland right down through the Highlands and Central Scotland.

“Why on earth not have one or more subsea cables for this long-distance transmission?

“The erection of hundreds of mega pylons down Scotland’s central spine will forever disfigure some of the landscapes that define Scotland and its people.

“Wind, tidal and wave energy may be renewable but Scotland’s precious landscapes are a finite resource. The Government should be tackling climate change with a coherent national energy strategy that includes action on energy efficiency and transport. We can meet our renewable targets without sacrificing Scotland’s heritage to big business.”

The JMT said tourism was likely to be hit by the impact of the project on Scotland’s wild landscapes, particularly the Cairngorms national park, Schiehallion, Glen Moriston, and the Corrieyairack Pass.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority also expressed its disappointment. David Green, convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said: “The CNPA recognises the need to respond to the challenges of climate change and supports the drive to maximise the amount of energy from renewable sources as the most sustainable way of providing for our future energy needs.

“However, sustainable energy production has to be matched by sustainable energy transmission with proper measures taken to safeguard the quality of environment between production and consumption, especially when that environment is recognised as being of outstanding national importance for its natural and cultural heritage.

“The Cairngorms national park is such an area and the CNPA has always maintained that the preferred option would be that the pylons did not go through the Cairngorms National Park at all. However, this option was not included in the application submitted by Scottish Hydro-Electric Transmission Limited and Scottish Power Transmission Limited to Scottish Government under the Electricity Act 1989.

“The CNPA was consulted by Scottish Government and assessed the impact of the application on the National Park.

“The CNPA objected on the basis that the proposal conflicted with the statutory national park aims, did not meet the electricity and did not comply with Scottish Government planning policy and guidance and industry’s own guidelines for transmission lines in such areas, since it failed to demonstrate that there are no other alternative routes.

“The CNPA and partners submitted evidence at the inquiry on the potential for undergrounding in the national park and requested that the Scottish Government facilitate discussions on alternative overhead and/or underground routes as well as the replacement of existing pylons with wooden poles in some locations in the park.

“We are very disappointed that the line will still be coming through the national park and there is no requirement for undergrounding. However, we still welcome the fact that Scottish ministers have accepted many aspects of the case presented by the CNPA and acknowledged that the national park is one of Scotland’s special areas and is a resource for the whole nation making significant contributions to the national tourism economy.

“Although the new line will have a significant adverse impact on the landscape in part of the national park, the removal of lines elsewhere and transfer of other lines from pylons to wooden poles, which was requested by the CNPA, will be an enhancement which, although not offering mitigation, will compensate to a degree.

“We also welcome that our recommendation that the applicant make a contribution towards marketing initiatives in the affected areas has been upheld, and will, to some extent, address the impact on local business. The mitigation measures required for the actual transmission line are also helpful and the CNPA will work with the applicant to ensure that they are implemented for the benefit of the national park. The CNPA has also been involved with the Environmental Liaison Group over the past year, which advises on the Construction Procedure Handbook, and will continue to be involved with this group.”

Scottish and Southern Energy is backing the Beauly-Denny project and plans to build pylons up to 65m (213ft)  tall to carry the upgraded line.

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