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Wind farm developers look to Holyrood after SBC lands blow

A costly public inquiry is set to determine the fate of a controversial wind farm development near Ashkirk.

It follows the decision of Monday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee to reject by seven votes to four the proposal for 10 giant turbines in the scenic Ale Valley.

Applicants Airtricity immediately announced its disappointment at the outcome and its intention to lodge an appeal with the Scottish Executive.

The prospect of the inquiry and the strong likelihood that Holyrood planning mandarins – committed to hitting renewable energy targets – will give the bid the go-ahead was acknowledged on Monday.

But Councillor Jim Fullarton summed up the mood of the majority when faced with 370 objections to the Langhope Rig wind farm which would have generated enough electricity for around 13,000 homes and linked into the national grid at Hawick.

“We cannot bow down to the appeal process,” said Mr Fullarton. “We should not be afraid to stand up for the Borders and its rolling hills.”

He claimed the region, which has around 30 wind farm proposals in the pipeline, was “already providing more than its fair share” of Scotland’s wind generation, while receiving just 2 per cent of Scottish Executive central funding.

Mr Fullarton was echoing the views of his Conservative colleague, Carolyn Riddell-Carre.

With a large contingent of protesters in the public benches at Newtown, the Selkirkshire member quoted the current Ettrick and Lauderdale Local Plan and the policy that the council will ensure all development in the countryside has “no adverse effect on countryside, amenity, landscape or nature conservation”.

“There is no doubt this will have a significant impact on a landscape which is deeply rural and very, very special to Borderers,” said Mrs Riddell-Carre. “I really do feel this development is wrong for this site.”

Members were shown a panoramic slide of the wind farm site from the memorial cairn, erected in 1993, to the romantic poet, Will H. Ogilvie, who died in Ashkirk in 1963 and had his ashes scattered on the hillside on the road to Roberton. The skyline of Ogilvie’s favourite view would be punctuated with the turbines, each standing 121m high from base to blade tip.

“Please leave our majestic Border landscape undisturbed by refusing this application,” wrote Ian Landles, a member of the Will H. Ogilvie Memorial Committee.

His was one of 370 objections, submitted by letter or in petitions organised by a local action group. The dissenters cited not only the landscape blight, but the disturbance of noise and traffic during the 10-month construction period and the adverse impact on tourism and wildlife.

But SBC’s own planning officials recommended approval, noting there were no objections from statutory bodies like the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage. SBC roads bosses were also content with the arrangements to widen parts of the B711, offering access to the site from the south.

Senior planning officer John Hayward felt the application could be supported, provided 35 conditions were observed.

Councillor Catriona Bhatia agreed. “We have a wider responsibility …. If we don’t tackle climate change through new renewable energy sources, there will no-one here to enjoy these views.”

Noting that the site was not designated a National Scenic Area and that just six houses within a 5km radius of the site would experience “significant impact”, Mrs Bhatia went on: “On balance and given the conditions, I do not believe the impact is so significant as to warrant refusal.”

After the vote, Airticity’s Scottish chief executive, Alan Baker, told TheSouthern: “We are extremely disappointed at this decision. The Langhope Rig wind farm would have made a considerable impact on Scotland’s renewable energy targets and contributed significantly to the local and national economy.

“The main objection was in relation to visual impact, but one of the main reasons Airtricity chose to proceed on this site was because of its limited visibility in the Borders area. We therefore did not believe this objection presented an insurmountable obstacle.”

By Andrew Keddie

The Southern Reporter

5 June 2007