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A sad day for Cumbrae

The Isle of Cumbrae suffered a tremendous setback last week with news that a controversial solar farm application, previously rejected by North Ayrshire Council, was approved by the Scottish Government in an appeal process, despite fierce opposition from Cumbrae Community Council and local residents.


At the centre of this conflict rests a proposed solar farm, with 5 metre panels, covering the size of 22 football pitches, set to be built at the highest point on the island, a site treasured by both locals and tourists for its unique ecology and breath-taking landscape. The project, initiated by Comsol Energy Limited, has received opposition due to both the visual impact as well as the potential environmental impact on the designated Special Landscape Area (SLA) and Local Nature Conservation Site (LNCS), which host a remarkable array of biodiversity, including 20 endangered bird species and seven priority habitats. Its complex topography, characterized by steep undulating slopes, huge rocky outcrops, and widespread boggy areas, adds to its ecological value.

The scheme was first proposed by Comsol Energy Ltd. in 2016, with plans for the power to be taken off island and fed into the national grid.


A subsequent application submitted in July 2022 prompted the submission of 263 comments to North Ayrshire Council and was withdrawn by Comsol Energy Ltd. for a second time.


At the end of 2022, Comsol held an ‘exhibition’ signalling its intent to submit yet another planning application, this time including battery energy storage systems and associated infrastructure.


In 2023, North Ayrshire Council, in a cross-party decision, rejected the application, noting that the application would have a detrimental impact on the island’s habitat, visual amenity and tourism.


Comsol Energy then initiated an appeal with the Scottish Government.


On 9th February, a reporter from the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division announced that the decision by North Ayrshire Council had been overturned and the solar farm application would go ahead, with conditions.


In his letter, the reporter remarked:

 “The proposed development is generally acceptable for a renewable energy development. "I agree that the site is not one that would seem to most naturally lend itself to the development of a solar farm.

"It is in an elevated hilltop location with rough undulating terrain. It therefore has a wider visual envelope, and may be more challenging to develop, than might be expected for a flatter lowland site.

"It is also located on part of a local nature conservation site.

"However, I am not tasked with carrying out a comparative exercise to identify the best site for a solar farm in this area, but to reach a conclusion on the acceptability of this particular proposal.

Although not subject to formal environmental impact assessment, I note that the application was accompanied by extensive environmental information, which has informed my decision."

What's next for Cumbrae?

Following the decision of Scottish Government, the Cumbrae Community Council is now in discussion with elected members - seeking clarification on some of the conditions and discussing the options we now have as a community. A key focus for the Council is condition 14 which says the topography may not be changed. The Council is also in discussion with legal experts to see if we have a case for judicial review. We have to be able to argue that there has been a breach in following legal process.

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