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EXPLAINED: Highland Council v Inverness Caley Thistle – what kicked off the war of words

By Scott Maclennan

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Inverness Caley Thistle Football Club. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Inverness Caley Thistle Football Club. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Imagine if the players of the losing team could decide to try and change the outcome of a football match with VAR after the final whistle – that is what is happening with Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Highland Council.

The club wants to build a battery storage scheme behind Fairways Business Park, the council is against it. Officials recommended refusing planning permission but councillors voted 3-2 to approve in extra time – the application had been deferred.

Then the two councillors who voted against the development decided to bring a notice of amendment – a process that allows members to have a meeting of the full council review a subordinate committee decision.

Normally that is something of an embarrassment akin to airing your dirty laundry in public and it is usually deployed by opposition councillors to highlight what they see as an injustice.

Except on this occasion the two councillors – Thomas MacLennan and Paul Oldham – are not only members of the administration but actually lead the south planning applications committee (SPAC) that made the decision that they now don’t like.

So far, so confusing so here is our explainer on the facts:

What is the scheme?

The club wants to build a battery energy storage system (BESS) capable of storing up to 50MW of electricity on a 1.7 hectare site just to the rear of the Fairways Business Park and Inverness Kart Raceway. It will release electricity into the grid at times of shortages, having been charged up when there is less demand.

Who owns it and who made the application?

The project and land are owned completely by Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC 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 sponsors.

How will it make the club money?

Caley Thistle aim to secure the project so they can sell the battery farm to an energy company large enough to invest the estimated £40 million needed to develop it – it is expected that this would secure a seven figure number for the club.

How do the profits end up back at ICT?

They will sell the scheme on and reinvest the revenue from ICT Battery Storage Ltd in restructuring the club’s operation.

Is it a time limited commitment?

Yes, it is a one time deal.

What happens if it doesn't go ahead?

The club will take a massive hit. It remains to be seen so far but its efforts at investing in the community including providing over 1300 breakfasts for children in the area and other efforts to support sport among young people will undoubtedly take a hammering.

Why were council officials against it?

They originally objected for four reasons but that was ultimately whittled down to just one – the loss of green space.

How did it gain approval?

There main ways to get planning permission are under delegated powers – in which officials take the decision if the application is small enough; in a planning committee where officials recommend approval and it is accepted; or if councillors decide to vote for an application they believe is merited against the recommendation of officials. The last option is what happened – and the club were successful at the vote 3-2.

What's changed?

The two votes against are from the Cllrs Thomas MacLennan and Paul Oldham. They wrote to all members asking them to support what is called a notice of amendment to have the decision reviewed at the full council meeting in March.

The email from Cllr Oldham said: “Both Thomas and I as chair and vice chair of SPAC were uncomfortable with the way this was decided: it's not a good look for the council when so few of us make such an important decision, especially as only one of us was from an Inverness ward and none from the ward in question, but at the time we accepted it and moved on."

What happens now?

The next full council meeting – except for a special meeting on the annual budget – is on March 14. It is likely to be taken then as an item and will depend on the frame of reference of the notice of amendment. Only then will we know precisely what the councillors are asking and what is the likely outcome.

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