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13-May-11, 13:20
John O’ Groat Journal review: May 13, 2011

THE paper leads with concern being expressed about the loss of local trees, to make way for turbines. It has been compared to the alarming deforestation in South America. Landward Caithness councillor, Robert Coghill claimed it was “nonsensical” to deforest parts of the Far North to accommodate windfarms. He hit out, after Highland councillors decided not to oppose plans by SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy) to erect 33 wind turbines at Strathy Forest. The application will now be decided by the Scottish government. Mr Coghill expressed his concern about the level of deforestation taking place. He said that 930 hectares of trees could be removed at Strathy North with 424 hectares at the Burn of Whilk near Thrumster and a further 200 hectares at Camster, to accommodate turbines. He is worried about the loss of so much forest and there is no requirement to replant the trees.

ALSO on the front page, news that the script for a new £50 million Holywood blockbuster, is to be penned by a Caithness writer. Colin MacDonald, who comes from Wick but is based in Edinburgh, is to write a 3-D film version of Sir Walter Scott’s classic adventure Ivanhoe. He has been commissioned by Fairbanks Productions, which is run by Dominick Fairbanks, the great grandson and grandson of Hollywood legends Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Mr Macdonald told the Groat: “Ivanhoe is one of the great action adventure stories of all time, and it is a great opportunity to bring it to the big screen. He added: “It is a tale of courage, love and loyalty. It has jousting, sword fights comedy, passion and heart.”

INSIDE, the paper reports that nuisance complaints about three existing windfarms in Caithness surfaced during a public hearing into a controversial turbine venture proposed for the centre of the country. The grievances emerged, amid a battery of concerns expressed by residents living near the site of the 30- turbines earmarked for the eastern slopes of Spittal Hill. Visual blight, noise and health concerns and fears about plummeting house prices, featured at Wednesday evening’s session in Halkirk. Watten Community Council chairman, Jim MacDonald, meanwhile, revealed the group is now unanimously behind the new windfarm. A handful of objectors used their experience of existing turbines to seek to undermine Spittal Hill Windfarm Ltd’s bid to win planning consent for its 75-megawatt scheme.

IT would be “mad” to make staff at the Wick tax office redundant and recruit other employees to do their work, according to the local MP. John Thurso spelled out the need to retain the jobs at the office during a Treasury select committee meeting in the House of Commons. Questioning UK Treasury minister, David Gauke, who has responsibility for HM Revenue and Customs, the Far North MP said: “HMRC is recruiting 500 staff to undertake more specialist compliance work.” He continued: “The Wick office currently has a dedicated team working in a specialist area of compliance. He continued: “It cannot make sense to make them redundant and replace them elsewhere, with staff who will need to be recruited and trained.”

WICK is gritty rather than pretty, John O Groats offers little more than a means to get to Orkney, and Thurso is a handy overnight stop to the Northern Isles. That’s according to the latest reviews for the county’s tourism hot spots, included in the new Lonely Planet guidebook for Great Britain. Its ninth edition praised the area’s stunning scenery, said to be some of the most spectacular in the county, but it also claimed Caithness offers visitors very little in terms of things to do. The guide described Wick as being a town which has been down on its luck since the collapse of the herring industry. It continued: “Once the world’s largest fishing port for the silver darlings, when the market dropped after World War Two, job losses were huge, and the town hasn’t totally recovered.”

HALF-a-century-not-out...that is the record set this week by Dounreay engineer Calder Bain. He is the first employee to clock up 50 years of unbroken service at the complex. And, in continuing his job at the site’s design office, he is also a striking a blow for people wishing to work after their formal retirement. For Mr Bain, work on solving the many challenging technical problems created by decommissioning, the defunct fast reactor complex, has become a passion. The wealth of expertise and knowledge he has built up, is also invaluable to site licence company, DFRL. He has acquired a reputation for designing ingenious, remote-control devices that can operate in dark, highly radio-active, recesses of Dounreay’s prototype fast reactor.

GORDON CALDER pens a feature on Thurso Heritage Society as it celebrates a landmark birthday and discovers why its role is so important in the town. It has been 30 years since Thurso Heritage Society was established and it is now planning a number of special events to mark its anniversary. Chairman Alan McIvor told the Groat this week that an exhibition of old photos, featuring scenes, people and characters from Thurso and Scrabster, is being proposed along with a series of talks and fundraising activities.

PENTLAND United hit top form this as they underlined their intention to reclaim the county division-one title. Halkirk spent most of the evening chasing shadows and finished up on the end of an 8-1 hiding at Recreation Park. On the Highland League front Wick Academy has been urged to take advantage of their chances, to enable the team to end the season on a high. A frustrating weekend in Fraserburgh where Academy played their hosts off the field but still ended up losing, was an all too-familiar scenario, this season. Co-manager Ian Munro says he wants to see a killer instinct from his players when they travel to Lossiemouth tomorrow.