Activists urge SSEN to change pylon route through Highlands
Energy company SSEN has presented plans for around 100 miles of a network of pylons between Spittal in Caithness in the far north of Scotland and Beauly near Inverness.
The plans are seen as crucial in moving renewable energy out of the Highlands and into more populated areas of central Scotland and England.
However, a new campaign group has been formed to urge the energy company to reconsider parts of the route – with activists vowing to launch a public inquiry if the line is “planned through regardless of local sentiment” as currently planned.
Members of the Strathpeffer and Contin Better Cable Route Group want a third party to be brought in to work with both SSEN and local residents to plan a less disruptive route for the line.
They are currently concerned that “Glasgow skyscraper-sized” pylons could “march along the skyline and cut a swath through the forest”.
READ MORE: ‘Super Pylon’ plan emerges to run through the Scottish countryside
Group spokesman Dan Bailey said: “We’re talking about tall towers like this through a landscape that has no built environment for a couple of storeys.”
Mr Bailey, from the Highland village of Strathpeffer, said the plan was to place pylons between 50m and 60m high every few hundred meters along the route – adding that the only consultation had been with residents about where in they were to be erected on a 1 km wide strip of land.
He said: “The line they chose as their preferred route is possibly the most damaging line they could have chosen in terms of all sorts of measures, environment, habitat loss, rare species, the fact that they’re a really valuable local… Resource cuts through recreational forest used by hikers and mountain bikers by the thousands.
“It just detracts from the scenic setting of Strathpeffer, a historic Victorian spa town and historic centre. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen.”
Strathpeffer Nature Reserve, the old Knockfarrel Hill Fort, Castle Leod and its woodland, and Loch Kinellan Crannog, which is a proposed monument, could all be affected, campaigners say.
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Mr Bailey said residents of Strathpeffer and the nearby village of Contin “feel we will be collateral damage in the national quest for net zero”.
He claimed SSEN devised its preferred route using desk-based computer models “without on-site assessments for habitat loss, rare species and impact on landscape quality in a tourist area”.
He continued: “This is going to absolutely destroy the thing that is bringing people to the area.
“We’re on the edge of the Highlands, we’re a scenic, accessible place, we have campgrounds, we have hotels, mountain bike companies, trail guides, wildlife sightings, all these things contribute to the local economy and so on. These things are in danger, if you plow the line through the wrong part of our territory.
A different route could “significantly mitigate” the impact of the new power line, which SSEN is advising on through April 14.
However, as a lengthy public inquiry had to be conducted before approval was given for the similar Beauly to Denny power line, Mr Bailey said: “We will do everything we can to try to trigger a public inquiry if the preferred route is simply bulldozing anyway gets local feel.”
He added: “Scottish ministers have a role to play in this and the system they run risks overwhelming local people.”
John Mackenzie, the Earl of Cromartie and the current chief of Clan Mackenzie, is among those raising concerns.
He said locals had been given “a short notice with limited time to assert our democratic rights that 60m high poles would march across our countryside cutting through houses and villages as if this area were a brownfield site”.
He added: “This is not a wasteland, this is an area of natural beauty where people live because it’s a good place to raise kids, work and appreciate how wonderful it is.
“In Europe, power lines running through areas of exceptional scenery would go underground, so why not here?”
Helen Smith of Rowan Tree Consulting, which specializes in tourism and heritage projects in the Highlands, said: “The huge heritage threat in the Strathpeffer area is repeated along the Caithness to Beauly route.
“Each bog, strath and gorge that the pylons cross has special sites, some dating back 6,000 years, and even if those sites don’t end with huge pylons atop them, the surrounding landscape is drastically affected.”
SSEN said: “To support the continued growth of onshore and offshore renewable energy in the north of Scotland and to support the country’s push towards net zero, further investment is needed in the grid infrastructure to connect this renewable energy and from source to transport to the areas demand across the country”.
The company’s website added that “after extensive system studies, Spittal to Beauly has been identified as a critical corridor for the establishment of this required reinforcement”.
A spokesman for SSEN Transmission said the project is “part of a UK-wide work program needed to meet the UK and Scottish Governments’ 2030 renewable targets”.
They added: “Although delivering this critical national infrastructure by 2030 will require an acceleration of project development and deployment phases, we remain fully committed to working closely with the local community and broader stakeholders to inform our design, and.” it is important to note that the project is still in the early stages of development and no specific overhead line routings have been identified.
“We are currently seeking feedback on potential route options within approximately 1 kilometer wide areas and preferred substation locations, with this feedback helping to inform more detailed overhead line route options and our proposed substation site choices for further consultation later this year become.”
https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/23429533.campaigners-call-ssen-change-pylon-route-highlands/?ref=rss Activists urge SSEN to change pylon route through Highlands