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Councillors urged to reject Penicuik wind farm plan

Penicuik farmer Alastair Cowan launched an emotional plea to Midlothian councillors to reject plans for the Auchencorth wind farm.

Mr Cowan, whose family have farmed Eastside Farm since 1850, urged the planning committee members not to approve E.ON’s plans, which he claimed would spoil the view of the “magnificent” Pentland Hills.

The farmer, whose great-great-grandfather built Penicuik Town Hall, said: “Councillors, I believe you have the power to take hundreds of pounds from E.ON or preserve a historic view and environment that generations have and will enjoy.

“We must not be overwhelmed by commercial interests today. Our ancestors thought of tomorrow. Let’s do the same.”

The special planning seminar, held in the town hall, was addressed by representatives of the wind farm applicant E.ON and the Penicuik Environment Protection Association. More than 150 members of the public were in attendance.

E.ON’s on-shore wind manager Darren Cuming agreed there had been a lot of “negative publicity” surrounding his company’s intention to erect 18 turbines on Auchencorth Moss but said the environmental study carried out stated that the site was “suitable for a wind farm for the scale proposed by the application”.

He pointed out that E.ON was committee to providing energy from renewable resources in an bid to meet government targets. Within Scotland, “a hot bed for wind farm proposals”, E.ON was responsible for operating the wind farm at Bowbeat Hill, near Peebles.

Mr Cuming added that at the feasibility stage, the company had considered 30 larger turbines but had reduced this to 18, 102-metre high turbines to blend in with the landscape.

The wind farm manager added he was aware that Midlothian Council policy opposed wind farms through its recently-commissioned landscape capacity study but E.ON was still wishing the local authority to consider the application.

A larger wind farm would have gone straight to the Scottish Government for its consideration.

Mr Cuming continued that the council policy had been contested at the local plan inquiry and considered it unlikely a blanket ban would remain.

“I think some authorities may raise eyebrows at Midlothian’s stance and ask why they have not taken their fair share,” he said.

He added that if planning consent was refused an appeal would be lodged. There was a possibility that it would be for a larger wind farm, which would go direct to the Scottish Government for consideration.

PEPA representative Dr Tony Trewavas informed the committee that 2402 written objections had been submitted regarding the proposed wind farm.
Around 1300 were from Penicuik residents with others from the Scottish
Borders and others who had moved away from the area.

Objections had also been lodged by Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Borders Council, Historic Scotland, West Linton and Howgate Community Councils, the Esk Valley Trust, Friends of the Pentland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

“All objections regard 18 turbines at 100m high as visually completely out of scale with this valued, countryside landscape,” said Dr Trewavas.

Fellow PEPA member Dr Bruce Hobbs noted that the application was contrary to Midlothian Council policies concerning the environment, flooding, pollution, noise, amenity and safety.

He claimed the wind farm construction would disturb the Auchencorth peat bog, which had taken 10,000 years to form.

He suggested that large areas of the bog could be damaged creating the foundations for the turbines, which would have to be dug down to the bedrock. There was concern at the number of lorry journeys on site during construction.

Dr Hobbs warned that the wind farm site was on the flight path of pink footed and greylag geese en route to Aberlady Bay and that the 2km buffer zone for noise would reach Penicuik’s town centre. Similarly, possible television reception could be affected up to 5km round the site, he added.

“E.ON know planners are overworked and know they will not have the time to look at a 355-page document in detail. PEPA spent six months studying the document and employed experts to put together a rebuttal,” he added.

Planning consultant Ian Kelly, from Graham and Sibbald representing PEPA, urged councillors to reach a decision on whether they would determine the wind farm application before the conclusion of the local plan inquiry or not to enable objectors to know where to focus their efforts.

If the application went to appeal, he added: “We have a strong case and in any event objectors intend to field a full range of expert witnesses with senior counsel to work with Midlothian Council. It is a format which has worked well in other cases in the country.”

Penicuik councillor Adam Montgomery assured all parties that the council was treating the application seriously as shown by the convening of a special seminar in Penicuik to listen to views.

Planning committee chairman Russell Imrie added that planners were present “taking copious notes” from all presentations. “Each and every piece of paper submitted to Midlothian Council will be gone over by our officers before they reach a conclusion,” he added.

It is expected a decision on the wind farm will be taken at a planning committee meeting sometime next year.

By Janet Bee

Midlothian Advertiser

19 December 2007