12,000 solar panels? Not here sunshine! Why Millport is seeing red over the ‘green’ revolution
Outcry over ‘grotesque’ plan to build energy site the size of 22 football pitches Doon the Watter
By Craig McDonald
dmg media (UK)
IT has for generations been a celebrated Scottish destination, vessels such as the iconic Waverley paddle steamer bringing daytrippers Doon the Watter to enjoy its fine scenery and revitalising sea air. However, Great Cumbrae and its town of Millport is under threat, islanders believe, from a development which they fear could wreck its rural charm and spoil its finest panoramic view. The island, in the Firth of Clyde, has become an unlikely battleground with locals rallying to oppose a development which would see 12,000 solar panels sited around its highest spot. Yesterday around 250 people, almost a quarter of the island’s population, mustered there, at the Glaid Stone, to register their peaceful protest against the so-called ‘green energy’ scheme, which they say will destroy the very environment it purports to protect. The local authority, North Ayrshire Council, has already rejected the plan for the solar farm, which would cover an area the size of 22 football pitches. However, developer Comsol Energy, registered at a business park in Lanarkshire, is pressing ahead with an appeal direct to the Scottish Government, prompting fury among Cumbrae residents and visitors. The protest yesterday, dubbed a ‘rally for democracy’, saw opponents of the scheme hold aloft placards – and paper cut-outs in the shape of a dunlin, a wading bird whose local habitat would be obliterated by metal panels and battery energy storage systems, in a development ringed by a 6ft fence. One protester, architect Dr Gregor Harvie, 54, said: ‘We have to think about what it is we are trying to protect with schemes such as this. I have nothing against solar farms – in the right place. ‘To locate one here, on precious land on a small island like this, is ridiculous. The crisis of biodiversity and habitat loss is a core part of the climate emergency and policy exists to protect sensitive sites like this.’ Islander Salena Begley, 51, added: ‘This area is so important to us, and to the many people who visit the island and have been doing so for years. It’s a small island and we must protect its natural landscape.’ Janis Murray, 71, said: ‘It would have a devastating effect on a natural habitat for many creatures. The island is just not big enough to take a large solar farm like this.’ Cumbrae Community Council secretary Keith Hammond said: ‘We feel sad that our beautiful island could be desecrated in the name of so-called environmentally-friendly energy. This development would cover the whole of the top of the island, displacing birds and invertebrates from their habitat. ‘It makes for a quiet place that is unbelievably beautiful. It is Scotland in miniature. The area affected is a fabulous viewpoint, with a 360degree panorama. It’s a popular location for people to visit and walk. ‘Instead, it would be covered with panels and ringed with a fence with cameras. It’s a quite grotesque idea. The protest is not just about the islanders, who are almost universally against this, but about people from all over Scotland and beyond.’ One complaint submitted to the initial planning application states: ‘A project of this magnitude is far too big for the island to support without a profound negative environmental effect.’ Another reads: ‘The Glaid Stone is a peaceful, quiet place to go. The island is not going to benefit. This is a definite no.’ The proposed site of the solar farm enjoys a breathtaking view, taking in the Isle of Arran, the Cowal and Rosneath peninsulas to the north, and round to Largs and Fairlie on the mainland to the east. It is understood the land is owned by a local farmer, with most of Cumbrae locally owned since the late 1990s when the Marquis of Bute accepted offers for parcels of land. An appeal has been registered, with a deadline of Tuesday for comments from ‘interested members of the public’ to be made to the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division. The appeal has a planned date for November. Mr Hammond added: ‘The whole island is mobilising. We would never be able to hold our heads up again if we did not protect the things that we love on Cumbrae.’ A North Ayrshire Council spokesman said: ‘At its meeting of May 24, the planning committee refused an application for a solar farm and battery energy storage system at Wee Minnemoer, Cumbrae. ‘In making its decision, the committee acknowledged that there was a pressing need to address the climate crisis. However, on the balance of harm versus benefit, this was not the right site for this development. The committee agreed unanimously that the application be refused specifically on the grounds of habitat concerns, effects on the tourism economy and the overall visual impact on the landscape. ‘The applicant has now appealed this decision and the matter is now in the hands of the Scottish Government planning and environmental appeals division, DPEA.’ A Government spokesman said: ‘The independent reporter who will decide this appeal will be required to make their decision on the planning merits of the case and in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicated otherwise.’ A planning document prepared by engineering multinational Stantec, on behalf of Comsol, states: ‘It is considered that the proposed development will not have any insurmountable significant adverse environmental impacts.’ A spokesman for Stantec, listed as a correspondence address on planning documents for developer Comsol, declined to comment. Comsol could not otherwise be reached for comment.