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Caley Thistle CEO claims 'fix was in' as Highland Council rejects £3.4m battery farm

By Scott Maclennan

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Scot Gardiner at Highland Council after the vote.
Scot Gardiner at Highland Council after the vote.

An Inverness Caley Thistle boss has said the “fix was in” at Highland Council yesterday after the local authority rejected the club’s application for a major renewables facility near Fairways business park.

But the conflict over the issue is far from over – as the club has vowed to appeal to the Scottish Reporter.

Caley Thistle CEO Scot Gardiner was incensed by what he saw was the “insidious behind-the-scenes goings-on from certain councillors and others,” adding “we can’t allow this clearly unjust nonsense to have a catastrophic effect on the football club”.

The club hoped the project – a battery energy storage system (BESS) worth £3.4 million – would secure its financial future after it was granted planning permission last month.

The project and land are owned completely by Caley Thistle which is the sole shareholder in ICT Battery Storage Ltd. But the application was made in the name of Intelligent Land Investments (ILI), a close associate of the club as their main shirt sponsor.

The club wanted to build a system capable of storing up to 50MW of electricity on a 1.7 hectare site. It would release electricity into the grid at times of shortages, having been charged up when there was less demand.

But permission was then withdrawn after an almost unheard of move by chairman and vice chairman of the council’s south planning committee – councillors Thomas MacLennan and Paul Oldham – submitted a notice to have it reviewed at a full council meeting.

Council officials had previously recommended refusal due to loss of greenspace.

Ultimately, the two-hour debate centred on how to interpret the two sets of planning guidance – the National Planning Framework 4 – which supported the project; or the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan – which did not.

The bitterness of the public debate threatened to overshadow some significant issues, with Councillor Isabelle Mackenzie pointing out an obvious contradiction or irony: “Highland Council, as you know, has got an application coming forward for a development with battery storage of a much larger size in another part of Inverness.

“So logically, we should probably be questioning if any battery storage that’s happening in this area should go ahead and that perhaps you could debate pausing them until we have got guidelines. We have to consider our decision today very carefully because of how it will have a reflection going forward with other potential battery storage.”

Councillors were asked to vote on the issue after Cromarty Firth member Maxine Smith brought an amendment based on net zero and renewables acknowledging the loss of greenspace was small.

They did and it was rejected – 30 councillors voted for refusal, 23 to support the plan and three abstained.

Cllr Smith argued that the loss of four acres, or two per cent of that whole site, was “negligible” saying: “There are lots of areas up there where they could alternatively walk a dog.

“To be quite honest, the 80 jobs as well, I think, is extremely important and we seem to be losing sight of that and we are improving the Inverness economy here if we grant this today.”

She added: “We can’t keep turning away industry – it is a signal to people who are thinking of investing in Highland. And if we refuse this today, I think that is the signal we are giving and it’s quite worrying.”

Afterwards, Mr Gardiner was furious at what he heard from some councillors at the meeting regarding safety, fire service consultation and alleged intimidation.

One such member was Cllr MacLennan who wanted to see the development refused and brought it to the full council in the first place after securing the support of 28 other councillors.

He said: “I reckon I have been involved in about 700 planning applications in my time as a councillor and I’ve never seen one like this before – the lobbying, which is intimidation if we’re honest, has been just something I never thought I’d see.

“I chair south planning with 16 members and 10 substitutes and to have only five adjudicating over this, I thought was a shortfall, there weren’t enough people there to make a decision on a planning application of this size and magnitude.”

Mr Gardiner said: “I feel aggrieved in relation to this nonsense about intimidation. This is shocking. This is casting aspersions on the football club and on the fans of the football club. And those who did that, should know better.

“They are good people sending in factual emails, saying ‘I support this’. It’s an insult to our supporters, it’s an insult to anyone who wasn’t even a supporter but thought this is a good idea.”

He concluded: “It seems preposterous but there’s a righteous indignation that this is not reasonable, it’s not fair.”

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