Residents and campaigners are to mount a challenge to fresh plans for a hydro power scheme in an area of outstanding beauty and national scientific importance in the Highlands.
London-based DHG Hydro has confirmed that proposals for its 2 MW hydro scheme at Ardessie Burn in the National Scenic Area (NSA) of Wester Ross are to be resubmitted to the council within a matter of months.
Initially rejected by the Highland Council in July last year, because of the “significant detrimental impact” that would be caused to the An Teallach site of special scientific interest, the plans were again rejected by a review body in November.
But planners indicated they would support a new plan if the visual impact of the scheme could be mitigated, paving the way for the future reapplication.
Locals have already said they will start a campaign to protect the site from development by DHG Hydro, which has built numerous small hydro schemes in locations across Scotland.
The battle for the site highlights the differences between those who champion green energy and others who want to preserve the beauty of the untouched natural landscape.
Jeremy Fenton, 66, a retired teacher who lives close to the proposed site and now writes guidebooks, said: “While the government wishes to encourage renewable energy schemes, there are some places that are extremely special and should not become industrial development sites. Ardessie is likewise special, and considered by many to be one of the finest hill burns in Scotland.”
He added: “Renewable energy schemes may help to save the world, but there comes a point when the world needs to be saved from them or it will not be worth saving. The fact that Ardessie is an ideal site for such a scheme is trumped by its extraordinary natural quality: its de-wilding is too high a price to pay for electricity.”
The Scottish Wild Land Group is one body that objects to the scheme. In a statement explaining its position to the previous plans the charity said: “It is surprising that a developer is even considering putting forward such a proposal. If it is allowed to go ahead, it rather makes a nonsense of any attempts to protect Scotland’s finest scenery, devaluing the work of the Ramsay Committee and all the subsequent work.
“National Scenic Areas are nationally important by virtue of the landscape qualities that make them special – their ‘special qualities’. There seems little point in having NSAs if their identified special qualities are so easily cast aside by developers.”
Nick Curtis, commercial director at DHG Hydro, confirmed that the company would soon be reapplying for permission for its scheme, but insisted the impact on the site from the revised plans would be very small after a few years.
“The councillors on the planning review committee were evenly split and recognised that this was a good hydro scheme where there were significant environmental benefits,” he said.
“They were primarily concerned about the track to the intake, which we intend to reduce to a footpath and re-route. Scottish Water already have an intake on the burn, so our footpath can be used for both purposes.
“We were encouraged to go back with a slightly revised proposal taking into consideration the concerns of the committee and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to come up with an acceptable solution.