On 20th December 2007, the Public Local Inquiry into the proposal by Scottish & Southern Energy to upgrade the Beauly to Denny electricity transmission line came to an end. The Inquiry began on 6th February 2007 and is estimated to have cost many millions of pounds. It has been Scotland's longest and most expensive public inquiry. More than 17,000 objections to the proposal were submitted. The existing transmission line carries electricity produced in the Highlands to Southern Scotland and the rest of Britain. SSE argues that the upgrade is necessary to carry the additional electricity which will be generated by renewable wind energy schemes. The proposal for the 220 kilometre line would require the building 600 steel towers between 56 and 65 metres tall (twice the height of the existing pylons) through some of Scotland's most outstanding landscapes, including the Cairngorms National Park.
The proposal was opposed by Highland, Stirling, Falkirk and Perth and Kinross councils, the four planning authorities concerned, as well as Cairngorms National Park Authority and Clackmannanshire Council. A major opposing role was also played by the Beauly Denny Landscape Group, a coalition of six environmental groups including the John Muir Trust (JMT), National Trust for Scotland and Ramblers Association Scotland and financially supported by, amongst others, NEMT and the Cairngorm Club. Objectors questioned the need for the upgrade and criticised SSE for having failed to properly investigate alternatives such as subsea transmission, an alternative route via the east coast or undergrounding of the transmission cables. Grave concerns were expressed about the impact of the upgraded line on landscape quality and thus on the tourism which is so vital to the economy of Scotland in general and of the Highlands in particular. The pylon line was a "quick fix" to give SSE shareholders maximum return at the risk of long-term damage to the Scottish economy. Opponents of the scheme have also been highly critical of the way in which the Inquiry was conducted. In July, Mid Scotland and Fife Tory MSP Murdo Fraser announced that he would boycott the Inquiry because of his "grave concerns" at the way the process was being handled. Mr Fraser had previously lodged a parliamentary motion criticising the Scottish Executive's "undemocratic" handling of the Inquiry.
In an End of Inquiry press release, the Beauly-Denny Landscape Group argued that the Public Local Inquiry into the project had not been fit for purpose. This is because it would close without ever giving serious consideration to whether the proposed power line from Beauly to Denny was needed in the first place. The press release again highlighted the risk to Scottish tourism and the inappropriateness of the Public Local Inquiry as a mechanism for exploring what are in fact major national issues. The failure of the previous Scottish Executive to develop a Scottish Energy Transmission Policy also came in for criticism.
Whatever the recommendation of the Inquiry, the final decision rests with the Scottish Government. The outcome is unlikely to be known until late this year or possibly even 2009.
10 April 2008
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