Allegations that two Scottish Government Ministers may have breached the Scottish Ministerial Code by becoming involved in discussions about Fallago Rig wind farm are to be investigated by Scotland’s top civil servant.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Cranshaws, Ellemford and Longformacus Community Council, who are opposed to the 48 turbine wind farm, discovered various pieces of correspondence between the ministers and the Duke of Roxburghe who owns the land at Fallago Rig where North British Windpower want to build a 48 turbine windfarm.
And after reading the correspondence the community councillors concluded that the senior politicians “knowingly met with those involved in Fallago Rig at the highest possible level and clearly the application was discussed”.
Convinced that the actions of John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, and Jim Mather, Scottish Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, were contrary to the Scottish Ministerial Code which prevents ministers becoming involved in a planning application and meeting with just one side, the community council has now put in a formal complaint to the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government.
Community council chairman David Lochhead said: “Requests made under the Freedom of information Act have revealed that both Alex Salmond, First Minister and John Swinney MSP have recently, on separate occasions, met with the Duke of Roxburghe, who is the major interested party in the Fallago Rig wind farm development.
“Correspondence reveals that in a clear breach of the ministerial Code of Conduct the Fallago Rig development was discussed at these meetings.”
The letters released show that during the Summer Cabinet in Melrose this year the Cabinet – including Ministers involved in deciding the planning application – stayed at the Duke’s hotel, The Roxburghe. The Government state they paid for the accommodation and were not hosted by the Duke.
Another letter from Alex Salmond to the Duke thanks him for a visit that he and his wife enjoyed at Floors after the Summer Cabinet.
But of most concern to the community council, according to Mark Rowley, was “correspondence between the Duke’s factor and the Energy Consents Unit of the Scottish Government which clearly shows that at the July 2008 visit to Floors to declare the new biomass boiler open, Ministers were aware that the Duke would refer to Fallago Rig”.
Christopher Wilkins, chairman of North British Windpower was also there and his thank you letter to the Minister suggests he too was pleased to have had a discussion on the matter
After the visit the Duke wrote to Cabinet Secretary Swinney to thank him, saying: “As we discussed, we are concerned, given the experience of the MoD objection to the windfarm development at Fallago Rig, that the effective blanket ban on turbines in the line of sight of radar will prevent many schemes, which would otherwise be acceptable on planning grounds from being built. The result would be that the serious efforts of the Scottish Government to achieve a significant increase in renewable and energy sources and to reduce carbon emissions will be compromised. However we were much encouraged by your interest and certainly hope that the Scottish Government will be able to find a solution to the conundrum.”
A reply to the letter came from Mr Mather who said: “Please be advised that the Scottish Government is participating in and supporting the UK initiative to promote solutions to the impact of wind turbines on radar and therefore support work on a series of workable mitigation solutions endorsed by aviation experts to identify, explore and implement mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of wind turbines on radar to acceptable levels.
“With regard to your comments on the MoD objections to the proposed wind farm development at Fallago Rig, please be assured your concerns over the MoD objection and the circumstances surrounding it have been noted, however, I am sure you will appreciate that given Scottish Ministers role in determining this case, it would be inappropriate for me to comment specifically on this application while it is currently being processed and still subject to consideration by Ministers.”
One community councillor said: “There is hardly a more controversial planning application in Scotland at the moment: the Government are, after all, attempting to push a wind farm that has been rejected by two local authorities, the local community councils and the Government’s own Reporter to the Public Inquiry.”
After hearing evidence at the public inquiry in 2007 the Reporter is believed to have concluded that the planning application, already rejected by Scottish Borders Council and East Lothian Council, should be refused.
However, the findings were never made public and behind the scenes discussions took place between Scottish Government representatives, the MoD and North British Windpower. In July this year the MoD announced they were withdrawing their objections.
The public inquiry is to be re-opened and all new evidence will be heard, probably in January next year, but there seems to be a presumption amongst many that it is just a formality and the windfarm will get the go ahead from the Government, in line with their renewable energy programme.
In this month’s Renewable Energy News magazine there is a news article speculating about a battle between two French companies, GDF Suez and EDF Energy, to buy the windfarm at Fallago Rig, before the public inquiry has even been reopened.
The article also claims that according to their sources the go-ahead for the windfarm is a matter of “if and not when”, and that construction work could begin in 2011.
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