Windfarm activists from England were in Eyemouth last week, drumming up support for the proposed Coldingham Moor wind farm on behalf of the development company P M Renewables who admitted paying their expenses to travel to Berwickshire.
Coldingham residents’ group STAG, who are against the proposed 22 turbine wind farm at Drone Hill, are fighting a bitter war of words against the developers, and the protesters are angry but not surprised at the wind farm company’s latest tactics of paying green activists to travel to the area while at the same time claiming that the majority of local people are in favour of the development.
A spokesperson for STAG said: ‘We are hardly surprised at the tactics of the developers – after all, this windfarm is worth millions of pounds in profits. Of course P M Renewables will claim that objectors are in the minority – but the facts simply do not bear out their arguments!
“Coldingham STAG is far from alone in objecting to this proposal. We are joined by the community council and Scottish National Heritage in saying the submitted plans are unacceptable, and we have been told by Scottish Borders Council that objections from local people are still arriving on their desks. None of these objections are financially motivated.”
PM Renewables used evidence produced by a focus group meeting, held last year, as proof that they have wide backing for their plans.
They say that nationwide surveys consistently show that 80% of people like wind farms, and this was once again reflected by the response to wind power campaigners time in the area recently, where the silent majority were able to let the council know of their support for the Drone Hill wind farm, near Coldingham.
However, the STAG spokesperson said: “The focus group they talk about actually took place when people knew very little about the site proposed.
Attendance was by invitation only, effectively barring some of those who would have liked to be there, and the developers actually paid those they had chosen to take part!”
Coldingham resident Mike Carlile was one of those invited – though he refused to take the money on offer.
He said: “I went along fully believing the invitation which said it had been designed ‘to allow participants to engage in an informed and in depth debate’. However, it was in fact mostly hard sell – films and talks about how wonderful wind energy is and nothing at all about the actual site in question. In depth questions were not allowed.
“I had many questions for the developers but they didn’t answer any of them and I was made to feel like a trouble-maker. In the end I handed the developers a list of my questions and asked them to put the answers on their website. I’m still waiting for a response.
“Interestingly, people could only claim their £20 ‘expenses’ at the end of the event – ie after they’d given their response. I turned down the money and I feel results obtained that day should be disregarded – if you invite selected people, give them food and pay them to attend, you obviously increase your chances of hearing what you want to.”
Last week P M Renewables paid the expenses for members of the lobby group ‘Yes2Wind’, to travel to Eyemouth where they set up a stall and asked passers-by to sign letters in favour of renewable energy, which are being forwarded to Scottish Borders Council who will ultimately decide on whether or not to grant planning permission for the wind farm.
A spokesperson for STAG, who pointed out that they did not go on to Coldingham from Eyemouth, said: “The difficulty is that of course people will say they are in favour of renewable energy – we all know we need to do something to save the planet. However, unless people are told details of the site in question they are simply not making an informed choice.
“I myself was approached and of course said that I was against the development, mainly due to the detrimental effects on wildlife, the fact that the proposed farm would be so close to people’s homes, and on grounds of access.
“However, I got chatting with the two men, and they happily admitted that they had no particular interest in the windfarm on Coldingham Moor, but that they travelled all over the UK being paid ‘expenses’ by various developers to lobby on their behalf.
“Another shopper told me that he’d been offered a pint of beer in exchange for signing a letter – when he refused the offer was upped to two pints!
“These seemed like very decent guys but they simply did not know the facts of this particular proposal and hadn’t even been to the site and I think once things were explained to them they did the decent thing.
“The crucial thing is if PMR have so much local support, why are they having to pay naïve outsiders to come in and lobby for them?
Simon Morton, director of PM Renewables said: “We have spoken to many people in the local area over the last few years and we know there is a tremendous amount of support for the Drone Hill Wind Farm.
“Unfortunately, it is human nature to be more motivated to take action about something we don’t want, rather than what we do want. Therefore we decided to do something to demonstrate to the council the vast support of the silent majority.”
He added “We asked some campaigners who support wind farms near their own homes to come to the area and speak to local people on the street, and provide them with the means to support their local wind farm by writing a letter to the council.
“The vast majority of people they spoke to were grateful to be given the chance, they had people queuing up to sign letters of support.”
Fellow director Darrin Rooney, continued: “Most people’s lives are filled with work and family commitments; therefore we are happy to pay two people who actively support wind farms near their own homes to help local residents near Coldingham do the same.
“These guys are passionate about wind power, and thoroughly enjoyed speaking with the local residents about how they can support their local wind farm.
“The campaigners said there was an incredible response – they had people thanking them for coming, and at some points they had people queuing to write support letters for Drone Hill Wind Farm.”
By Janice Gillie
26 September 2007