It is a rugged area of hills and moors which, for generations, provided a source of energy for homes and factories the length and breadth of Britain.
Now, with its deep and opencast coal mines dead and gone, a new model of power generation looms ominously upon the horizon of Dalmellington in Ayrshire’s Doon Valley and the local community does not like it.
Tomorrow a public inquiry will start scutinising plans by Amec for a 255-megawatt wind farm atop the south-west enclave, which would help power 160,000 households and contribute one-sixth of the Scottish Executive’s 2010 renewable energy targets.
Though far from the largest such development in Scotland, the 85-turbine scheme’s approval or rejection stands to chart the course for an entire region’s future.
With its population almost universally opposed to the wind farm, along with statutory consultees such as the Civil Aviation Authority and East Ayrshire Council’s planning department – which believes the turbine would wreak irrevocable environmental damage – Dalmellington’s plea is unequivocal: no longer, its people say, can their community exist simply to serve the energy needs of others.
“Dalmellington has had it tough for nearly 200 years but for the first time in living memory, there’s a feeling of hope for the future,” explains Mark Gibson, laird of Craigengillan estate. “We’re trying to pick ourselves up and succeed as a community. People here have an incredible sincerity and decency and the last thing we want is the dependency culture of a village living around a wind farm.”
Since the power company’s consultations began six years ago, a spectrum of villagers have rallied with zeal against each of Amec’s subsequent planning revisions while keeping a check on other wind farm developments in the area by rival companies such as ScottishPower.
For five nights a week over the winter, for instance, young people including Stephen Kelly and Stewart Calderwood, both 15-year-old pupils of Doon Academy, travelled through Dalmellington’s streets and those of neighbouring villages such as Bellsbank, Patna, Burnton, Polnessan, and Waterside, garnering petitions of objection.
Stephen and Stewart regard their task as a social responsibility. Their families are inextricably linked, both boys’ grandfathers having worked together in the mines. To them, community pride is a genetic inheritance.
“Older people we met told us things are getting much better now in Dalmellington and the future’s bright, but if this wind farm comes, it’ll destroy everything,” Stewart recalls. “We all love our village, and we will fight for it.”
Indeed, in spite of all it has endured – and the threats it must now face up to – this is no village of ghosts. Concrete plans are in place to harness the area’s uncompromising landscape as part of a sustainable green tourism regeneration drive. Proposals for a £4.5m outdoor activity centre have already secured outline planning permission and support from the Big Lottery Fund. Should Amec’s matt grey turbines go up, backers of the project have warned of their intention to pull out.
It is but one scheme, yet the initiative is indicative of villagers’ efforts to forge a new identity for themselves.
For its part, Amec says the wind farm will generate around £15m in the region’s economy, along with significant job creation. It has also pledged a community fund of some £300,000 a year.
To most in Dalmellington, that is a soiled currency. “It’s been the same story I’ve heard passed down from my great-grandfather who was born here in the early 1800s,” said Murray Hendry, treasurer of the Doon Valley Wind Farm Action Group. “Dalmellington has supplied the country with energy for generations. All we’re asking for is the chance to be treated fairly.”
The village is set to make its plea for what it sees as social and environmental justice. Even if Amec’s turbines do not come to Dalmellington, it seems energy will flow through this coarse, forgotten corner of Scotland for years to come.
Firm behind the scheme
# Amec, in a joint venture with British Energy Renewables, is also behind the UK’s largest onshore wind farm project, which will be see the creation of 181 turbines on Lewis in the Western Isles.
# Once a conventional engineering company, Amec now oversees a diverse portfolio of projects, including private finance initiative schemes, defence, rail and road infrastructures, and large, controversial dam schemes in Turkey and Belize. The vast majority of its revenue is made via oil and gas services.
# As well as renewable power, Amec has concerns in the nuclear industry, having recently acquired two nuclear businesses, the French company Game Nucleaire SAS, and NNC Holdings, Britain’s foremost private sector nuclear provider.
# Last November, the company rebuffed a takeover offer by a private equity consortium, having refused to open its books. The company has endured problems of late due to its loss-making construction arm and a series of litigation claims.
By Martyn McLaughlin
19 February 2007
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