September 10, 2006

Take an Ike: allies fight wind farm threat at Scottish White House

Jeremy Watson

IT MAY not rank with the liberation of Europe, but it is a battle of which the Supreme Allied Commander would have been proud.

The granddaughter of General Dwight D Eisenhower, who led the allied forces to victory in the Second World War, has linked up with the National Trust for Scotland to see off a serious threat to the landscape around the castle that became his Scottish home.

A wind farm company has submitted plans to build 15 turbines on the hill that overlooks Culzean Castle, the 18th-century Robert Adam masterpiece owned by the trust on the Ayrshire coast.

Its magnificent top-floor apartment was given by its former owner to Eisenhower at the end of the war to thank the US general for the part he played in commanding Scottish troops and defeating the Nazi menace.

But, taking a leaf from the book of one of the greatest leaders in modern history, the NTS and Susan Eisenhower – along with Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage – have formed an alliance to stop the wind farm plan in its tracks.

The trust claims the £20m development on Knoweside Hill with turbines more than 250ft high – higher than the Wallace Monument – threatens to destroy the views from one of Scotland’s most famous castles and has lodged a formal protest with the planning authority, South Ayrshire Council.

Eisenhower, head of Washington’s Eisenhower Institute, a policy think-tank, and a highly regarded authority on foreign policy and security issues, said: “I absolutely support what the NTS are doing.

“There are many places where wind farms can be built, but there is only one Culzean Castle with its magnificent sweep of views.”

Eisenhower said she still regularly visited the castle and “cared very much” for the property given to her grandfather. “My grandfather loved Culzean Castle and it was the last place he painted before he died,” she said.

“This is a place enjoyed by thousands of Scots and overseas visitors every year and the setting is absolutely irreplaceable. This is the NTS’s flagship in Scotland and it should be protected.”

Michael Hunter, NTS’s west region director, said building a wind farm so close to Culzean was “unacceptable” because of its effect on the landscape around the building designed by Robert Adam in the late 18th century.

“This is the first time the trust has objected to a wind farm, as we generally support renewable energy developments. However, we are strongly opposed to this development because of the damage it will cause to one of Scotland’s most significant heritage sites,” he said.

The trust welcomed more than 200,000 visitors a year to the castle and the country park, Hunter added. “They come to enjoy the beautiful and historic surroundings Culzean is famous for, and the proposed wind farm could seriously harm tourism, not just at Culzean but in Ayrshire as a whole.

“The scale and strikingly artificial appearance of the turbines would make them a highly undesirable feature in these views, at odds with the spirit of the place and damaging to the nationally significant qualities of the designed landscape.”

The second front against the plans has been opened up by Historic Scotland, the government’s heritage agency, which says the picturesque setting of the internationally important castle by Robert Adam is of “paramount importance”.

It says it is lodging a formal objection because the turbines would spoil views from both the Eisenhower Suite and other rooms within the castle and from the landscaped grounds.

“Knoweside Hill is highly visible on the horizon in views from some of the principal rooms of the castle,” it says. “The wind farm will therefore have significant adverse impact on views from the castle” as well as “from formal lawns immediately to the south of the house”.

The third prong of the alliance is Scottish Natural Heritage, the government’s countryside advisers. SNH says the wind farm will have a significant impact on the natural heritage of the Culzean Castle landscape.

The proposal involves the construction and operation of 15 wind turbines, large areas of concrete to support them, an electricity substation and 3.5km of associated access tracks in an area of 310 hectares on Knoweside Hill – three miles to the north of Culzean Castle, near Maybole. The land is owned by the trustees of the Cassillis and Culzean Estate, formerly owned by the Marquess of Ailsa, who stand to make millions of pounds if the project goes ahead.

The wind farm developers, the County Durham-based Banks Group, claim views of the turbines from the castle and grounds are “limited” and that local communities will benefit to the tune of £500,000 for community projects over the farm’s 25-year lifespan.

Phil Dyke, the renewable energy director at Banks Developments, said: “We are aware that there are some concerns about our proposals and we have met with these organisations to discuss them in detail. Last week we submitted a detailed report to South Ayrshire Council, which addresses all the issues expressed to date.”

Dyke said the company had received “a great deal of local encouragement” for the proposals. “Both Dunure Community Association and Maybole Town Council are supporting the scheme, as they are able to see the benefits that a renewable energy project will bring to their community,” he said.

“We are now working with local groups to identify specific projects that would bring real benefits to the North Carrick area.” Given the strength of the official opposition, the Knoweside Hill proposal is expected to be ‘called in’ for a decision by Scottish Executive ministers.

After a series of complaints by local residents, community groups and national agencies such as SNH about the over-proliferation of wind farms, the Executive has instructed planning authorities to take more care about siting turbines in areas of high scenic or heritage value.

Signs of a tougher line emerged on Friday when, despite the Executive’s aim to produce 40% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, deputy enterprise minister Allan Wilson refused permission for a 24-turbine wind farm near Crieff in Perthshire, to preserve the area’s “natural beauty”.

ROBERT Adam converted an old fortified towerhouse with dramatic views across to Arran between 1777 and 1792 for David Kennedy, the 10th Earl of Cassillis, creating what is probably the finest Georgian castle in Scotland. The Circular Saloon and Oval Staircase at Culzean are acknowledged as Adam’s final masterpieces. When the Kennedy family donated the castle to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945, they asked

that the top floor be given to Eisenhower as a thank you from the people of Scotland. Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike, first came to Culzean in 1946 and was clearly touched to accept this gift. He visited the castle three more times, once as the 34th president of the United States when, for a short while, Culzean was his Scottish White House. His longest stay was during his retirement, when he enjoyed painting and walking in the quiet

of Culzean’s gardens, woodland and shore. He wrote of Culzean: ” This is a place I can relax.” Today, his six- bedroom home, arranged around the Oval Staircase, is one of the trust’s most popular holiday lets, with a double room available from £ 225 per night. The Eisenhower Suite is virtually a self- contained country house hotel, enjoying spectacular views across the Firth of Clyde to the mountains of Arran and Mull of Kintyre.

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