EXCLUSIVE: Plans to keep Caley Thistle 'safe' into the future jeopardised by Highland Council
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Inverness Caledonian Thistle have issued an incredibly rare video response from chairman Ross Morrison as Highland Council officials try to block a major bid that would ensure financial stability for the club.
The £40 million project – in conjunction with Caley Thistle’s shirt sponsor Intelligent Land Investments (ILI) for a battery storage scheme – is seeking Planning permission for a 1.7 hectare site behind the Fairways business centre.
In the video, Mr Morrison hints that refusal of the application could have serious consequences for the club and its trust, which works with 1700 people on a weekly basis and offers breakfast clubs for kids.
The proposal is for a facility comprising 52 battery storage containers that Mr Morrison would be able to power every home in the Highlands for at least two hours saving 20,000 tons of carbon – the equivalent, he says, of one million trees.
But planning officials recommended refusal related to the loss of open space and the impact on biodiversity, the unwelcome introduction of an “industrial process” as well as noise pollution and drainage issues.
As with many planning issues, some of the reasoning is difficult to understand. The renewables industry generally considers battery containers to be amongst the quietest elements in such facilities.
While the site would occupy just two per cent of the open space so there remains a further 85 hectares while concerns about drainage – raised in almost every single planning application – never impeded the wave of nearby house building, which is also unlikely to have significantly improved biodiversity.
Mr Morrison strongly rebuffed the council’s position saying the club not only had made efforts to meet all conditions but had actually done so – he also argued that refusing the application would harm the club.
“On Tuesday, we were given the devastating news that the planning department had recommended refusal before the committee on Wednesday [next week],” he said.
“Looking at the four reasons, one of them was noise – I was told this was a condition of planning where this would put a bar on how much noise could come out of it and that is it. Now we could have used more restrictions, more acoustic barriers – that can be dealt with.
“There is insufficient biodiversity – again I am told this is a condition of planning and we can deal with it after it so if we don’t do it then we don’t get the thing built but this could be a condition.
“We have a flooding question which they say wasn’t answered. It was answered but it wasn’t uploaded in time so therefore that question has been answered. So of the four three of these things are minor points that we feel can be dealt with.
“The last one was open space. We have to admit that about two per cent of the former golf course at Fairways would be lost – that is the truth – but it will make up for 20,000 tons of carbon – the equivalent of one million trees.”
He added: “We have put it to them, we don’t see how you could refuse it, it would be an absolute travesty if this is refused by the councillors.”
Club’s Financial Pressures
“The reality of being in the championship with a full time squad and all the things we do [foundation] is that we struggle so we have to supplement our sporting income with commercial income and ILI have been good enough to help us with it.
“This one is seriously game-changing, it will make us. Seriously, without it I think we will struggle but we are the very definition of what it says in planning – we are community wealth building.
“It will help secure the trust and just looking at what the trust do – 1700 weekly course participants, 317 participants from para football, 428 participants from adult football and 506 hours of free football – I could go on.
“But these things require money and we require money from other sources other than football income – we don’t take money from the council and we don’t take money from the Scottish Government.”
He added: “And on top of that it is a great way to get down to net zero – what is not to like? I don’t get it.”
‘You need a better answer THIS is the better answer’
The importance of the scheme goes beyond keeping the club "safe" and makes sense in the context of the drive for net zero, Mr Morrison argued.
“It is very clean energy," he said. "It saves using fossil fuels, it turns on when the turbines turn off so it charges up when there is spare electricity and when there is no electricity coming into the grid.
“It could power every house in the Highlands for two hours – it is a remarkable thing that is offered here. Its saving on carbon dioxide is 20,000 tons, which is the equivalent of having to plant one million trees.
“Because of where it is at the back of Fairways Business Centre there are trees all around it and more will be planted and an acoustic fence will be put round it as well so you won’t be able to see this thing.
“When the turbines stop, you go back to fossil fuels again, you need a better answer – this is the better answer.”