The applicants behind a controversial solar farm application on the Isle of Cumbrae have insisted it will have not have a deterimental effect on tourism, sparking an outcry from protesters who took to the top of the island on a recent rally, led by Cumbrae Community Council.

Comsol has insisted the plans for a site at Millport would not impact tourism in the area - but local campaigners have hit back, questioning the proposed location for the site, and raising concerns over the impact on the local environment.

A detailed representation to the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division of the Scottish Government (DPEA), in response to the appeal against North Ayrshire Council's decision to refuse permission for the solar farm at the top of the island, has been issued by Cumbrae Community Council.

Cumbrae Council chair Alex Harvie said: "We have responded to each point raised by the applicant.

"We argue that, while policy does support proposals for renewable energy generation, it does not do so unconditionally, and local and national polices give specific protection to sensitive and special landscapes, nature conservation areas, habitats and species.

"We believe that the simple question, ‘Why here?’ has never been answered. Why propose a large, industrial-scale development on a beauty spot that is an important habitat and home to protected species, at the top of a small tourist island accessible only by ferry and a core path, adjacent to its only 360-degree viewing area and a picnic area?

"The proposed site is also topographically and geologically challenging. It is uneven, boggy, rocky and undulating; completely unlike sites typically considered feasible for the construction of solar farms.

"This is one of the most complex and inappropriate sites the applicant could have selected, and many alternative locations are available. North Ayrshire has 12 per cent of all vacant and derelict land in Scotland, one of the highest proportions of any Scottish Local Authority.

"Why then does the applicant propose taking on the additional difficulties of a site on an island, with complex terrain only accessible by ferry, and from which any electricity generated would have to be transmitted back to the mainland, for no obvious benefit to them or to the local community?

"On a more conventional site a solar farm could achieve all the benefits the applicant is seeking, could be operational more quickly and at a lower cost, and would have less detrimental effect on the environment.

"Construction of the proposed solar farm, even if it is possible on this complex site, would certainly require extensive remodelling of the topography, which would devastate its existing habitats. While it is important that we all act to reduce our carbon emissions, in doing so we must not destroy the very thing we are trying to protect."

Largs and Millport Weekly News: Protesters against Millport solar farm at last weekend's rally at Glaid StoneProtesters against Millport solar farm at last weekend's rally at Glaid Stone (Image: Mags Craig)

In Comsol's appeal to the Scottish Government, it points out that the Scottish Government declared a climate emergency in 2020, and their statutory target is to be at net zero by 2045, and in order to achieve this, there needs to be a significant increase in renewable energy generation of all types, including solar farms. 

They point out that aside from the objection from the Cumbrae Community Council, there were no other objections from statutory consultees, although there was one objection to the application from a non-statutory consultee, the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

In its appeal, Comsol says: "We would note that the NAC case officer raised no concerns with tourism, having assessed the proposed development against the provisions of the Development Plan.

"It is also understood that tourism on the island predominantly comprises self-catering holidays, and therefore many visitors to the island may not visit the Glaid Stone as part of their trip.

"The proposed development would not have any negative impacts on views from tourist accommodation contained on the island, and in particular no negative visual impacts from the town of Millport.

"Anecdotally, it is understood that the main views from the Glaid Stone are to the north, and therefore looking in the opposite direction of the solar farm.

"Any negative tourist impacts on the island as a result of the proposed development are at worst simply overstated and at best non-existent.

"It is important to note also that many studies on the perceived impact of renewable energies have been conducted and, in summary, these confirm that there is no published evidence to support any hypothesis that renewable energy technologies either negatively or positively impact on tourism.

"The proposed development will contribute towards the Scottish Government’s Renewable Energy Targets, which will in turn support the move to a low carbon economy, both providing energy to the grid, and allows for more efficient and flexible use of the power and targeting the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation."

However, Cumbrae Community Council pointed out that there had been little research into the impact of solar farms on tourism, describing the site slected  as 'the most complex and inappropriate sites the Appellant could have selected, when many alternative locations are available' elsewhere in the region.

It said: "Given the weight of evidence contradicting that recommendation for approval, the Planning Committee correctly and unanimously agreed that NAC’s Local Development Plan (LDP2) does not permit developments of this nature on sensitive habitats such as the proposed site. LDP2 repeatedly, specifically, and intentionally excludes such places from development, including renewable energy projects, as do a number of other local and national policies and plans."