COUNCILLORS in Scotland’s biggest local authority claim fees paid by wind farm developers have been nearly wiped out by costly legal battles.
Highland Council has made nearly £300,000 from wind energy planning applications in the last three years.
But it has spent £288,000 in legal costs for appeals and public enquiries against similar schemes.
Campaigners are now demanding the fees, described as “a relative pittance” by a leading land conservation charity, be raised to match those in England.
They also say the true cost of fighting the appeals could be much higher as the figure does not include council staff’s time.
Councillor Matthew Reiss said the local authority had processed 306 planning applications in the past three years, netting £295,013 in fees.
But the cost of fighting appeals, along with public enquiries, left them with with a bill of £288,000, not including staff time.
He said: “It is obvious that the costs to the council are much more than the income from the planning fees. Many would suggest the council should receive full-cost recovery.
“But in order to achieve this a more detailed breakdown of all the costs should be sought, bearing in mind that south of the border planning fees are up to ten times higher.”
Councillor Jim Crawford, said: ”Developers pay £25,000 here for an application for a windfarm compared with £250,000 south of the border.
“No wonder we’re at saturation point in Scotland.”
Helen Mcdade, head of policy at UK conservation charity the John Muir trust said: “Cash-strapped councils who try to stand up for the environment and for their communities are often hammered by legal costs, while giant energy companies who can potentially make tens of millions of profit from a single windfarm are paying a relative pittance.”
The council area of Landward Caithness, which is represented by Cllr Matthew Reiss, has one of the UK’s highest concentrations of giant turbines.
Controversial developments in the Highland council area include the Glen Kyllachy scheme at Tomatin, which was approved in April, and a 67-turbine scheme overlooking Loch Ness.