Concerns about plans to install a new line of pylons through the Scottish Highlands have been raised with both First Minister Humza Yousaf and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, wrote to the two leaders to highlight “great concern” that the proposed power line will “negatively impact beautiful stretches of scenery and heritage”.
It comes after energy firm SSEN put forward plans for a network of pylons to run for about 100 miles between Spittal in Caithness, in the far north of Scotland, to Beauly near Inverness.
The plans are seen as critical in moving renewable energy generated in the Highlands to more populated areas of central Scotland and England.
But local campaigners have already spoken about the impact they fear the pylons, which will be between 50 metres and 60 metres in height, will have on the area.
Dan Bailey, a spokesman for the newly formed Strathpeffer and Contin Better Cable Route (SCBCR) group, said SSEN has selected “potentially the most damaging line they could have chosen on all sorts of measures”, citing concerns about its impact on the environment, habitat loss and rare species.
Mr Stone said he wants the Scottish and UK governments to jointly fund a public inquiry into the power line.
In a letter to both Sunak and Yousaf, he said: “I have received strong representations from a large number of constituents on this matter.
“There is great concern about how this power line will negatively impact beautiful stretches of scenery and heritage which should remain a significant attraction for both domestic and international tourists.”
Calling for a public inquiry to be held into the proposals, he said: “The local community, the country and stakeholder companies should be allowed the opportunity to contribute.
“This is a major strategic issue for the whole of the UK and should therefore be subject to widest and most careful decision making.”
He said the issue is one for both the Scottish and UK governments, adding that the two administrations should “jointly fund such an inquiry”.
Mr Bailey meanwhile is hoping Yousaf will apply the same commitment he made with regard to proposed new no-fishing areas to the power line.
Yousaf pledged recently that the Scottish Government will not impose Highly Protected Marine Areas “upon any community” that is “vehemently opposed” to this.
Mr Bailey said: “In our area, the predominant reaction has been outrage that Spittal-Beauly is being bulldozed through despite so much local opposition.”
SCBCR has offered to work with SSEN to find an alternative route that will have less impact on the local environment and surrounding communities.
The group wants a co-design process to be set up, with a neutral third party involved in drawing up a new route, using a more “open and collaborative process”.
Speaking about the current proposed line, Mr Bailey said: “Committing to a preferred route corridor prior to consultation, and without having a full picture of the wildlife, archaeology and cultural history in the identified route options, makes a mockery of public engagement.”
SSEN’s website states that “following extensive system studies, Spittal to Beauly has been identified as a critical corridor” to support the continued development of renewable energy in the north of Scotland.
A company spokesperson said previously that the project is “part of a GB-wide programme of works that are required to meet UK and Scottish government 2030 renewable targets”.
With the project in the “early stages of development”, the spokesperson said SSEN has been seeking “feedback on potential route options within approximately one kilometre wide areas and preferred substation locations”.
This will then help inform “more detailed overhead line route options and our proposed substation site selections, which we will further consult on later this year”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is critical that investment in our grid infrastructure happens at the pace and scale required to enable the full utilisation of current renewable generation, and to realise the enormous potential of further deployment.
“It is also vital that such infrastructure is delivered at the most efficient cost to consumers.
“We are supportive of the SSENT Pathway to 30 Programme, with the planned investment in our grid infrastructure bringing benefits for our workforce, our supply chain, and our regional and national economies.
“Our planning and consenting system ensures large scale grid infrastructure are subject to consultation with the public and statutory and local bodies, and invite local communities to have their say on future proposals.
“Potential impacts on communities, nature and other valued natural assets or cultural heritage are important considerations in the decision-making process.”
A spokesperson for the UK Government’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “Decisions on all new network infrastructure proposals are taken by the energy regulator, which is independent of Government.
“The UK Government continues to engage with local communities to ensure their views are heard on any projects. Ofgem is there to make sure due process is followed for any new developments.”