Plans for a massive windfarm in the north-east have been dealt a huge blow by a senior local authority official.
Campaigners believe an environmental report on the multimillion-pound scheme proposed for a site south of Peterhead could sound the death knell for the project.
Councillors will now be urged to reject the bid by Edinburgh-based renewables firm PNE Wind UK to instal eight turbines 330ft above the ground at the Hill of Braco, near Hatton. Aberdeenshire Council environmental planner Peter Fraser has revealed that the mast could be seen from as far away as 18 miles on a clear day.
He believes the development – the largest of its kind in Buchan – would have a major negative impact on the surrounding countryside.
The Braco plan has already attracted more than 1,000 complaints from residents of the area.
It has also been criticised by the Ministry of Defence, air traffic controllers in Aberdeen, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish RSPB.
Mr Fraser, a senior member of Aberdeenshire Council’s transport and infrastructure team, says in his report that the turbines could be three to four times the height of nearby woodland and had the potential to be dominate the surrounding area.
He adds: “With regard to landscape and visual issues, it is my opinion that the proposed development would have a notably adverse impact, particularly on the perceived landscape character of the site area.
“It is not advised that this wind energy application be supported, particularly if valued natural aspects of the Aberdeenshire landscape in this area are to be adequately conserved.”
Developers had earlier claimed widespread support for the scheme, citing a phone poll of local residents that found 43% of the 346 households questioned were in favour, while 21% were neutral and only 30% against.
As of last night, however, the number of letters and e-mails to Aberdeenshire Council calling for the scheme to be rejected stood at more than 1,040, with only a handful – fewer than five – written in support.
The majority of opponents argue that the area is already too cluttered with turbines, with some claiming the project could cause irreversible damage to a site of scientific interest known as the Moss of Cruden.
The most serious threat to the development comes from the Ministry of Defence, which has claimed the turbines could interfere with radar signals at nearby RAF Buchan.
An objection from the MoD is widely regarded as the kiss of death for turbine developments.
Councillors are unlikely to back any proposal that could pose a risk to national security.
Campaigner Michele Emslie, of Blackhills, said: “PNE continue to treat the residents and community surrounding the site with total disregard and contempt.”
She said one of the biggest concerns remained proposed roads in and out of the development.
“Should this proposal be approved, the new access road which will go alongside two family homes will make residents’ lives intolerable and their homes worthless,” she said.
“Residents are also concerned that they could lose vital water supplies.”
No one from PNE was willing to discuss Mr Fraser’s report last night, but a spokeswoman revealed that the company’s meteorological mast – installed at the Hill of Braco site three years ago – would be removed later this month.
She said the 210ft structure had been set up to measure wind speeds and, having served its purpose, would now be dismantled.
Hill of Braco project manager Megan Richardson said: “The temporary mast has enabled PNE to assess the wind conditions of the site and we are satisfied that we have now gathered sufficient data from the mast to inform our proposals.”
The mast is likely to be reused at another potential windfarm site in the UK.