Plans for a controversial island wind farm were backed by councillors of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) on the 16th of February. Due, to the scale of the 651-megawatt project, the final decision on the planning application rests with the Scottish Executive, however campaigners against the plans will see the councils approval of the project as a blow.
The £500m project, which will see 176 giant turbines built on the Isle of Lewis and be one of Europe's largest onshore wind farms, has divided the community. Indeed, the council itself is divided on the issue with Councillors voting by 18 to eight to support the plan. Its' backing however was given on condition that five turbines were removed from the 181 Lewis Wind Power ("LWP") proposed for the site.
The scheme has been heavily criticised however by Islanders, groups such as the RSPB and many other objectors. They argue that the scheme would scar the landscape and damage one of the largest peat bogs in the world. On top of this there are some environmental concerns the RSPB saying that the project will damage wildlife habitats and significant bird-life.
However, developers have maintained that the project will be extremely good for the island economy claiming that tens of millions of pounds would be injected into the island's economy. Furthermore, the project would create 70 ongoing operating and maintenance jobs, which would be maintained even after the construction of the windfarm.
Most Islanders and other objectors are doubting these benefits however, and do not see a strong enough case being put forward to outweigh the negative impact they feel the windfarm will cause. Despite their reservations, the plans were approved by the council with a recommendation that the total number of turbines be reduced, by 5.
A council spokesman said: "The decision now rests with the Scottish Executive but the council has clearly set out its decision to approve the application subject to more than 50 conditions."
Early indications however show that the objectors will continue their opposition to the Scottish Executive with Scottish Natural Heritage already confirming that it will object to the Executive about the plans, even if they are scaled down slightly. Scottish Natural Heritage board members reiterated their previous view that land covered by special protection area status might be harmed by the development
Indeed, it is unlikely that this is the last we will hear about the controversial plans and it could still lead to a public enquiry.
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