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Wind farm plan could create national security risk

The fate of Fallago Rig lies firmly in the hands of Scottish Ministers after all parties involved in the wind farm inquiry made their closing statements on Friday.

And all those against the plans accused the applicant, North British Windpower of acting unreasonably by pursuing plans which had already drawn huge opposition from the Ministry of Defence.

Representing the MOD, Ailsa Wilson said the organisation’s appearance at Duns Volunteer Hall was the first time they had needed to attend a public inquiry and added that they were satisfied that the correct judgement had been made when the original application was objected to.

In her closing statement Ms Wilson reiterated the Ministry’s concerns that of the 48 turbines proposed, at least 37 would be in the line of sight of the RAF radar at Brizlee Wood near Alnwick.

She added that a windfarm at Fallago Rig would effectively create a ‘hole’ in detection and said that even losing sight of an aircraft for a minute could be crucial to aviation operations and national security.

The inquiry was held after members of Scottish Borders Council twice rejected an application from North British Windpower, firstly for 62 turbines and then the reduced figure of 48 in the central belt of the Lammermuir Hills.

Proceedings started on February 5, and over the course of two and a half weeks Reporter Karen Heywood, Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals for the Scottish Government, heard from the applicant themselves as well as Scottish Borders Council, East Lothian Council, the Ministry of Defence, Black Mountain Farms and representatives from local community councils.

Concerns were raised throughout the inquiry over just how detrimental a further wind farm would be to the Lammermuir Hills if the Fallago Rig plans get the green light.

To date permission has been granted for 203 turbines in the Lammermuirs, with 73 built so far, including those in the development at neighbouring Crystal Rig.
In their closing statements a number of parties focused on the ‘cumulative impact’ a windfarm would have on the landscape of the Central Lammermuir Plateau.

John Campbell QC, representing Black Mountain Farms and other objectors, simply said that “enough is enough,” and strongly objected to the logic he claimed was used by North British Windpower that “any gap must be filled.”

Mr Campbell added that he wasn’t satisfied with the applicant’s explanation on why Fallago Rig was earmarked for the windfarm development and suggested that there could have been more realistic options which would cause less damage to the environment.

He drew the inquiry’s attention to the fact that the Lammermuir Hills have been designated as an area of ‘Great Landscape Value’ in Scottish Borders Council’s Structure Plan and spoke of a “special intrinsic value,” which was important to society.

Commenting on the evidence given in the first week of the inquiry by landscape expert Rebecca Rylott, Mr Campbell said the absence of any residential development in the immediate vicinity of Fallago Rig was irrelevant as it’s an area highly accessible to many towns and villages.

He concluded by stating that Fallago Rig’s closeness to other windfarm developments in the Lammermuirs would result in the landscape being reduced to “a wind park,” and blasted North British Windpower, calling the inquiry a “complete waste of time and money.”

These sentiments were echoed by Maula McKinley, appearing on behalf of Scottish Borders Council whose final submission focused heavily on how the application contravened numerous parts of council legislation, including the Scottish Borders Local and the Berwickshire Local Plan.

She stated that the council were fully behind efforts to generate renewable energy but referred to a policy contained in SBC’s Development Plan that read: “The council will support proposals for both large scale and community scale renewable energy development….where they can be accommodated without unacceptable impact on the environment.”

She told the Reporter that in the council’s opinion North British Windpower hadn’t fulfilled this requirement as they hadn’t fully appreciated the fact that the Lammermuir Hills had been certified as an area of Great Landscape Value, a label previously approved by Scottish Ministers.

She added that the designation of AGLV in itself should mean that a wind farm, or indeed any development will be unacceptable and the landscape charcter of the central Lammermuir plateau gives it a limited capacity to absorb windfarm developments.

Closing proceedings for the applicant, Paul Cullen QC went against the stance shared by many and suggested that: “Fallago Rig exhibits many of the characteristics which are generally accepted to indicate capacity for windfarms.”

Mr Cullen discussed the issue of visual suitability and likened a development to ‘two colours’ in that it will either go with the landscape or clash and jar.
Following this line of thought Mr Cullen suggested that when looking at visability “Fallago Rig could scarecely be better,” and supported this claim by referring to the fact that a Scottish Borders Council landscape officer had agreed that the site lies within one of the areas of lowest visability.

In response to the main concern of objectors, ‘cumulative impact’, Mr Cullen argued that the existing development at Crystal Rig showed that windfarms hadn’t destroyed the landscape and that they have been largely absorbed and integrated within it.

He claimed that the large-scale, open simplicity of the Central Lammermuir Plateau will not be compromised by the cumulative effects.

With regard to the MOD’s concerns, Mr Cullen argued that there was no valid evidence of operational effects from existing windfarms in the UK beyond 57km (Fallago Rig would be 70km) and added that there are no obvious military or terrorist targets in the immediate vicinity of Fallago Rig.

Reporter Karen Heywood told the inquiry that she hopes to start writing her report some time in the coming month and will make her recommendation to Ministers in due course.

By Simon Duke

The Berwickshire News

27 February 2008