Glen Etive. Photo: Richard Cross

Glen Etive. Photo: Richard Cross

Mountaineering Scotland expressed disappointment at planners’ decision to allow three hydro schemes in wild land in Glen Etive.

The organisation said it called into question the point of designating areas with special protection if heavy engineering projects were to be allowed.

The three hydro plants were approved by Highland Council at a special meeting.

Mountaineering Scotland, which represents climbers, hillwalkers, mountaineers and ski-mountaineers north of the border, called on the Scottish Government to review the decision.

Stuart Younie, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “This is a disappointing decision by the Highland Council.

“It brings into question the purpose and value of allocating special designations which are intended to help protect our finest landscapes. We understand the arguments being made in support of the proposed developments but feel there was a wider point of principle at stake today.

“This was about the stewardship of a national asset and we hope this decision has not set a dangerous precedent which encourages more development applications in our wild land and national scenic areas.”

Seven applications were submitted to build hydro schemes on both sides of Glen Etive, which is currently designated as a national scenic area and identified as having outstanding wild land qualities. Mountaineering Scotland said each of the schemes would involve new road construction, bridge building, trench digging, cement pouring and power cabling, for a relatively low power output.

It agreed that four of the proposed hydropower schemes fitted in with the already developed forestry plantations, but objected to the three applications on the eastern side of the glen which it said would spread development up the slopes, damaging the wild qualities of the mountainsides.

Members of Highland Council’s planning committee visited the glen for themselves before approving all seven applications at a meeting in February.

There was widespread outcry at the decision and independent councillor Andrew Baxter gained sufficient support for a motion to call a special meeting of the council to review the decisions in respect of the three most contentious applications: Allt Ceitlein, Allt Mheuran and Allt Chaorainn.

A petition against the three most controversial schemes has attracted more than 12,000 signatories.

Mountaineering Scotland’s access and conservation officer Davie Black said: “We are disappointed at this decision as there were serious issues raised about the impact of these developments on the landscape here, an area of great importance for outdoor recreation.

“What do we have to do to save our best landscapes from heavy engineering?

“We would call on the Scottish Government to review this decision and to look carefully at how we protect a place that is double locked by landscape protections, between being a wild land area and a national scenic area.

“These are national assets, places of outstanding beauty. It should be in the national interest to look after these areas, and yet these heavy engineering projects are to be allowed to destroy the very qualities that make these steep slopes and deep glens so special.”

Conservation charity the John Muir Trust added its voice to those of Mountaineering Scotland, saying Scotland’s wild places are being diminished in pursuit of private profit.

It too had objected to the three schemes because of their potential impact on a popular and accessible scenic landscape within a wild land area.

John Low, John Muir Trust policy officer, said: “We first of all want to commend Councillor Andrew Baxter for ensuring that the full Highland Council had an opportunity to examine these applications. We note that around one third of councillors opposed the decision

“The trust took a measured approach when objecting to the proposals as we are very concerned at the continued diminishing of Scotland’s wild places at the hands of developers whose sole objective is private profit.

“While we are disappointed at the blanket approval of all three schemes within the wild land area, we welcome the fact that the local community plans to monitor the developments to ensure they are properly restored after construction work.”

Developers Dickins Hydro did not respond to grough’s request for a comment.

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