Trust criticises decision to hold dual Public Local Inquiry

Concern at the decision by two Reporters to hold ‘conjoined inquiry’ to consider two separate applications for wind farms in Caithness

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Despite opposition from a range of public, community and conservation organisations – including: Highland Council; Scottish Natural Heritage; Caithness West Community Council; Reay Area Windfarm Opposition Group and the John Muir Trust – the Reporters overseeing the two applications have agreed to the developers’ request for both Pubic Local Inquiries (PLIs) to be heard together.

The John Muir Trust believes that, although Limekiln and Drum Hollistan are  located close together west of Reay, each needs to be considered separately. Both are in the Flow Country, the large expanse of peatland and wetlands whose capacity to store vast quantities of carbon makes it a vital resource in the battle against climate change.

But, says Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the John Muir Trust: “The geography, planning history and potential impacts of the two schemes are quite different. One is on the coastline, the other inland. One has already been rejected after a full inquiry; the other is a relatively new application. Highland councillors have objected to both applications, but the council’s planning officials supported one but not the other.

“And although the John Muir Trust has objected to both developments, our concerns over the impact of each of the two schemes on Wild Land Areas are very specific and distinct.

“Worryingly, it is the Trust’s observation that, when two developments are considered together in a conjoined inquiry, almost invariably one gets consented and one refused. The danger is that this PLI becomes another ‘beauty contest’, rather than a thorough investigation into the merits of the proposals. In this case, most of those expressing a view believe that neither development should be consented.

“Rather than saving money as the Reporters claim, we believe that a conjoined inquiry would become a dog’s breakfast and, instead of streamlining the decision-making process, would make it more protracted, complex and costly.

“Clearly, both developers feel that it would be in their best interests to have a joint PLI, but the process is supposed to serve the public interest rather than private interests. We fail to see how a decision that sides with commercial developers – and ignores the range of public, community and conservation concern over a conjoined inquiry – can possibly be in the public interest.”