Hydro scheme developers say plan for Loch Ness will kick-start local economy
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Pressure is mounting to stage a planning inquiry into a green energy scheme at Loch Ness which could help the Highland economy recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
The scheme has been rejected twice by councillors – flying in the face of recommendations by its own officers.
But supporters claim it will inject £400 million into the local economy, create jobs and provide a lifeline for cash-strapped Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club – all at a time when the region will need it more than ever.
The Red John pumped storage hydro scheme, planned for a site near Dores, was the subject of an online meeting on Tuesday between the developers, Highland Council and the Scottish Reporter, who will hold the inquiry.
The developers of the £625 million scheme, Intelligent Land Investments (ILI), are now confident the inquiry will take place as early as August and that they will get the green light.
If Red John goes ahead it could free up £400 million of much-needed post-lockdown investment directly into the region and would see Caley Thistle reap rewards as it would lease ground for a huge park and ride scheme for construction workers.
More generally, it would also create hundreds of jobs and provide a major boost to the local area, with ILI’s CEO Mark Wilson saying: “Be under no illusion – we are building this.
“The only thing that is a bit of an unknown is how the lockdown restrictions are going to be loosened and how they are going to affect how people could go on site to view the project.
“We are going for the earliest date possible and the council are being very helpful with that. One of the things we were very pleased to see was it all felt very positive, like we were all working to an end goal.
“It is going to bring 400 jobs when tourism is going to be right down, it is going to bring £400 million into the local area so it is going to give the area a big injection, which is exactly what we are going to need after we get through this.
“On the Caley Thistle park and ride, we are very proud of that. If everyone can work towards getting moving as soon as possible it is going to play a big part with the football club.”
Regional MSP David Stewart and chairman of the Inverness Caley Thistle Trust, the largest shareholder at the club, agreed.
“I think this would be a win, win,” he said. “I think it is vitally important for all clubs, particularly the one that I support, to have diversification away from just football crowd income that is now not available.
“It is very important to get another source of income which would help the club improve the player pool of the club and help its financial sustainability.
“So I think this stands to be really good news, a big boost to the football club and hopefully it will provide a real chance to get into the Premiership in the following season as football returns.”
Fellow Highland MSP John Finnie said: “While I can’t comment on any individual scheme, there is no doubt we need innovation in terms of technology and the approach to the economy as we emerge out of lockdown.
“Scottish football is in crisis and that crisis is predicated on the fact that there is no guarantee of continual income and there is no doubt that were this scheme to get the go-ahead, then the treasurer at Inverness Caledonian Thistle will be delighted to have some ability to plan ahead on the basis of that guaranteed income.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, no date was set at Tuesday’s meeting for the inquiry to begin. The Scottish Government is due to publish a formal review of the restrictions on May 28. Parties will consider that and look to agree a start date thereafter.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that the pre-inquiry meeting was held by the Reporter on Tuesday and there was a discussion on possible dates and whether the inquiry will be virtual or in person. A date and procedures will be confirmed by the Scottish Government in due course. The council was represented by James Findlay QC.”
Mr Findlay is best known for having represented US President Donald Trump in his battle for permission for developments near Aberdeen.