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'This absolutely stinks' – Caley Thistle slam Highland Council for U-turn on battery farm

By Scott Maclennan

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The site of the planned ICT battery storage scheme with chairman Ross Morrison (inset).
The site of the planned ICT battery storage scheme with chairman Ross Morrison (inset).

“This absolutely stinks” – Caley Thistle's brutal assessment of the actions of Highland Council as the club chairman fears those involved are “hellbent on killing the club by abusing their power”.

A bureaucratic move by two councillors could place a vital deal worth seven figures to the football club at risk.

If the club's move for a battery energy storage scheme went ahead, the cash that would put Caley Thistle “on a sustainable footing for decades to come”.

Just last week, the council gave the club the go-ahead for the plans next to Fairways business park. When sold on, it would net the Championship club a tidy payday to secure its future.

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

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

The application squeaked through on a 3-2 vote, following a site visit after previously being deferred, but the two councillors who voted against the plan – the chairman and vice chairman of the planning committee Thomas MacLennan (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) and Paul Oldham (Nairn and Cawdor) – want a replay.

Cllr Oldham, while asking for other members' support, argued that he and Cllr MacLennan: “...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.”

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.

'Abusing their powers'

The twist risks not just two years of work and the future sustainability of the club but also the council’s reputation, says ICT chairman Ross Morrison.

“Following almost two years of work, one member of the council, citing one comment from a single resident, is using that as an excuse to pull this application in for review – why didn’t they do that in the first place? It is an excuse, it looks like an abuse of power and we question the competency of this decision," Mr Morrison said.

“This absolutely stinks and businesses across the region will be looking at this aghast.

"You think you have gone through all the proper channels, your planning application has been approved in a lawful and legal manner and one of only two people who decided to show up and vote against it, decide to try and reverse this legal decision.

“They are ignoring numerous other battery storage schemes that they have agreed, including some that are close to housing while the ICT battery storage scheme is next to a go-kart track, offices and a retail park.

“It won’t be seen or heard and is a big positive step towards net zero in Inverness and the Highlands, reduces pollution and gives the region more self-sufficiency of power with renewable energy."

He added: “I find it hard to say but with this action, Highland Council, or rather certain members of it, seem hellbent on killing the club by abusing their powers.”

The move by councillors MacLennan and Oldham is almost unheard of because it is rare for the chairman and vice chairman to challenge their own committee, indicating the body has not performed correctly while they were in charge.

Council 'wants a replay'

That even led ICT manager Duncan Ferguson to pour scorn on the situation, saying: “It looks like the Highland Council didn’t quite like that, did they? It looks like they want to replay the game, so to speak – and keep playing until they win or get the score they want.”

He said: “It’s all about the wellbeing of the club. It is worrying, isn’t it? It is a big part of how the club will go forward. If they don’t get permission, I think they will be in a wee bit of trouble, from what I’m hearing.

“It seems strange they are trying to reverse the decision, doesn’t it? They go through the process and are happy to go through the whole process and then, all of a sudden, you don’t get the result you like.”

He added: “You can’t then replay the game again. I’m sure the club will be in a strong position on that.”

On Tuesday the club said: “It is clear that democratic process was followed and one has to wonder if the chair and vice chair, who voted for refusal of our application won the vote instead of losing, would they have sent this communication?

“We believe we know the answer to that and we are therefore left questioning the motive in this move.”

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.

Highland Council was approached for comment but advised the notice of amendment would be tabled alongside the publication of the full council papers.

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