Mountaineers are calling on councillors to reject plans for a windfarm in the Highlands which they said is irresponsible.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland appealed to Highland Council members to throw out proposals for the Stronelairg development in the Monadhliath Mountains.
Planners are due to make a site visit on Monday before making a decision on SSE Renewables’ plans for 83 turbines, up to 135m (ft) tall. The MCofS also said the development would lead to more than 42 miles of new and upgraded tracks being carved across unspoilt land.
MCofS board member Ron Payne will be in the party accompanying councillors during the visit.
MCofS chief officer David Gibson said: “Monday is a critical day for the Scottish mountains and Highland councillors have it in their power to send a strong message to the big power companies that they cannot simply industrialise our landscapes for their own profits.
“It is entirely irresponsible to propose that a huge power plant, with 83 immense turbines, mile upon mile of wide tracks, plus buildings and masts should be built in mountains which should be cherished and protected for the nation and Scotland’s many visitors to enjoy.
“We repeatedly hear from the Scottish Government that it is committed to ‘suitably-located’ onshore wind farms and that it gives the ‘right level of protection to important landscapes’.
“If that is the case, how can proposals such as Stronelairg even get to the planning stage?
“Recent media reports suggest that [Alex] Salmond has begun listening to those who care for Scotland’s countryside, but he has so far done nothing.
“By rejecting this scheme Highland Council will demonstrate that the time has come for the First Minister to show real leadership by acting to protect our mountains in this Year of Natural Scotland, through the implementation of new and effective planning policy.”
The MCofS said it is not an anti-wind farm organisation and has objected to fewer than 6 per cent of applications. It said it does, however, argue that it is of the utmost importance that there should be full and effective protection for the best of Scotland’s mountain landscapes.
“The Stronelairg proposal is close to the Cairngorms national park and is also in the same superb mountain area which has come under threat from the Allt Duine wind farm proposals, which are so controversial that they led to a hard-fought public inquiry,” it said.
“If the Stronelairg development proceeds it is clear that the wild and open quality of the lands on the Garrogie Estate, by Fort William, would be fatally damaged and that many of the views from Scotland’s finest mountains for many miles around would be blighted.”
Other objections to the Stronelairg scheme have been lodged by the John Muir Trust, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Scottish Natural Heritage.
SSE director of onshore renewables Colin Nicol said: “We welcome the committee’s visit to the proposed site at Stronelairg so that they can see at first hand the sensitive design of the wind farm.
“Contrary to claims from some corners, the area is not wilderness; the proposed development is to be built around existing hydro infrastructure, including a one-kilometre-long dam, and lies within a managed sporting estate containing over 20km of roads and tracks including a road to the Glendoe Dam and a road through the wind farm.
“Through the course of the project, planning officers have visited the site on numerous occasions, and satisfied themselves that our responsible approach will minimise the impact on both the community and the main tourist routes and attractions of the Great Glen, including Loch Ness.
“SSE has also worked closely with SEPA during the design stage to ensure that any disruption of peat on the site will be minimised.
“SSE is proud to have been part of the Highland community for generations and we want to make sure local people continue to benefit from the development of the area’s natural energy resources.
“We are absolutely committed to working closely with the local community and all stakeholders as the project progresses to maximise benefits for the local area.
“Should consent be received for Stronelairg, significant opportunities could be secured by Highland companies and considerable local employment will be created.
“This contribution to the local economy cannot be under-valued and we are pleased to be investing in an area where we already have a strong connection.”