A surge in bids for individual wind turbines of more than 25 metres in height in lowland East Lothian has triggered the launch of a campaign to prevent the county’s cherished landscape from being dominated by the controversial structures.
About 40 county residents are now involved in fledgling group, Sustaining a Beautiful East Lothian (SABEL).
It has been established to raise awareness of the increase in proposals for large individual wind turbines – standing at more than 25m – and to lobby for a “more robust planning policy to protect the rural plains and Lammermuir fringe”.
The emergence of SABEL comes as East Lothian Council prepares to publish new supplementary guidelines for applicants and planning officials concerning individual wind turbine applications.
The Courier has learnt that more than 25 planning applications have been submitted in the past 12 months to East Lothian Council, requesting permission to erect between one and three turbines at each of the 25 sites. More than half of the bids lodged propose turbines of more than 30 metres in height.
These include three 100m turbines on land near Dryburn Bridge, Skateraw; an application by eco-group Carbon Neutral Stenton for a 67m turbine at Ruchlaw West Mains; a 34m turbine at Carfrae Farmhouse, Gifford; and three bids for 40m turbines on farms at Whittingehame Mains, Cockielaw and Standingstone – all within two kilometres of Traprain Law.
There are also a number of applications submitted to the local authority to erect 15 metre-tall turbines, with a capacity of 15KW, at Traprain Farm, near Haddington; Camptoun Holding and East Garleton, both near Drem; and at Fa’side Castle, near Tranent.
The majority of applications remain undecided, with approximately four granted planning permission since the beginning of the year – including a 48m-tall turbine at Ruchlaw Mains, near Stenton and a 34m -tall turbine at Alderston Mains, Huntington near Haddington.
There are about four sites within the county where single wind turbines, all thought to be under 20m in height, have been installed.
Linda Shaw-Stewart, a member of SABEL, described East Lothian as a “soft target” for politicians and applicants wishing to promote wind energy. She said: “The problem we have at the moment is that no big single turbine has been put up yet.
“Until that happens it’s going to be very difficult to get across just how much of an impact these things will have.
“We want to get this across to as many people as possible.
“We’re not blaming the landowners or the farmers because we are aware that the incentives are financially very attractive to them.
“But my concern is that the council is being extraordinarily short-sighted about the impact on East Lothian when the place is completely covered in wind turbines.”
The chairman of SABEL, Patrick Gammell, a deputy lord lieutenant for East Lothian, echoed her comments.
He said: “Our concern is that there’s a lot of pressure on farmers from energy distributors of wind turbines, who are encouraging them to put in these large structures, some of which are over 40 metres in height.
“If approved these wind turbines are going to alter the landscape significantly and we believe one of East Lothian’s major assets is its landscape. That’s what people come to East Lothian to see and we think there’s a real danger of it becoming irretrievably altered.
“A number of us believe in renewable energy but not at the expense of our beautiful countryside.”
SABEL plans to meet on December 4 to formally adopt its constitution before actively campaigning to raise awareness of wind turbine applications in the county.
As with all planning applications, proposals for wind turbines are currently judged depending on whether they meet the rules and guidance in the council’s Local Plan 2008, the Edinburgh and Lothians Structure Plan and Scottish Planning Policy.
According to the Local Plan, proposals for individual turbines or wind farms will be supported where: they would not change the existing landscape character in an unacceptable way and when they would not have an unacceptable visual impact on landscape.
Neither the applicants nor East Lothian Council are legally required to publicly advertise any application, unless it contains a statutory requirement to do so – for example, if the development is proposed for a conservation area or affects a listed building.
Councillor Paul McLennan, East Lothian Council leader, believes the new guidelines – due to go before councillors on December 7 – will address residents’ fears about the cumulative impact of turbine development on the countryside.
He said: “It is an extensively detailed document and a very good piece of work that will take into account the cumulative effect of wind turbines in the lowlands of the country.”
Kelvin Pate, chairman of the East Lothian branch of the National Farmers’ Union, explained that the attraction of investing in wind energy was a strong one for the agricultural industry, particularly due to the feed-in tariffs introduced last year by the Government to encourage people to create their own renewable electricity.
An index-linked payment guaranteed for up to 25 years is made to the landowner for each unit of electricity produced – even if it used by the generator for their own consumption.
He said: “From a farmer’s point of view it (a wind turbine) makes sense as an investment because of the benefits offered by the feed-in tariffs. At the end of the day money talks.
“It’s a bit of a conundrum for some farmers who’ve looked at renewables and it’s really in the past year that people have switched on to it really.
On the visual impact of turbines, Mr Pate added: “There are places for them (in East Lothian) and there are places we can put them where the visual impact isn’t so bad, so I don’t see that being an issue.
“In my view, a pylon is a damn sight uglier than a wind turbine.”
Other sites where turbines (three or less) of more than 25 metres in high are proposed are: Muirton, Drem; Westmains Farm, Haddington; Brownrigg, Congalton, North Berwick; South Belton, Hedderwick, West Barns; Belhaven Fruit Farm, Thistly Cross, West Barns; Belhaven Trout, Beltonford near Dunbar; Fernylea, Cockburnspath.
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