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Wind farm action groups throw down gauntlet to candidates

It is a sign of the times that overtures on behalf of taxpayer-subsidised wind farm developments, large and small, are currently outstripping proposals for house extensions in the in-trays of planning officers at Scottish Borders Council.

With a new council due to be elected next week, a plea to those candidates who may find themselves on the local authority’s quasi-judicial planning committee has been issued this week on behalf of no fewer than eight action groups, set up in the region to stave off what they claim will be the “degradation” of the countryside if the march of the turbines continues unabated.

The campaigning organisations have also combined to endorse a survey of all 72 candidates seeking votes across SBC’s 11 wards next Thursday.

Claiming to have more that 1,200 members, five of the groups were set up to fight specific wind farm proposals – at Brunta Hill, Dunion, Minto Hill, Chesters and near Hermitage Castle – while the others – Save Scott’s Countryside, the Lauderdale Preservation Group and Save the Lammermuirs – are more generically focused in halting unbridled wind farm expansion.

The network’s spokesman is David Walmsley, chairman of the Minto Hill Conservation Group (MHCG), who told TheSouthern: “Wind energy produced in the Borders already, according to SBC, creates enough energy to power nine times the number of homes here. Indeed, if every wind turbine planning application, plus all those under consideration, were successful, there would be nearly 1,000 turbines in the region.

“Yet the spread of turbines across our magnificent scenery will not make electricity cheaper for Borderers and, like everyone else in the UK, we are paying bigger and bigger bills to cross-subsidise the fat cats, most from outside Britain, who own the wind farms.

“Almost one in 10 adults in the Borders works in a job related to tourism and UK visitors to our unspoilt countryside boost the local economy by £70million annually. So jobs and the economy will be at risk if tourism starts to fall so it is important all candidates are aware of the facts and strength of feeling about wind energy as well as key planning issues affecting developments in the countryside.”

According to Mr Walmsley, the survey of candidates, carried out on behalf of the dissenting network by the MHCG, met with a paltry response, with only 15 out the hopefuls replying.

“Significantly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the only party with no responses was the SNP whose leader intimated that candidates did not want to compromise their chances of serving on the planning committee,” he revealed.

“All respondents are keenly aware of wind energy issues, including the proximity of turbines to homes and the handling of so-called community benefits. Most [respondents] were against planning permission being granted for any turbines within 2km of any house other than in exceptional circumstances.

“Most respondents agreed that community benefits should not be negotiated and disbursed by unelected community groups as has been – and still is – happening in the Borders, but by community councils or SBC.

“Most also believed the co-operative model, in which individual local residents are encouraged to become investors in a wind turbine project, unfairly favours small numbers of people who can afford to invest.”

Mr Walmsley acknowledged that planning matters, although dealt with at SBC level, were regulated by the Scottish Government.

“Councillors elected in May must make it their business to raise local issues with colleagues at Holyrood,” he told us. “My own group has been exchanging views with ministers and MSPs on several issues, including planning fees, notification of planning applications and residents’ rights.

“We believe the mandatory postal notification to residents needs to be extended to a 5km radius for any structure over 10metres high, because anything higher than this in a rural area will have a much greater impact on residents than, say, a garage extension.

“We all know that wind energy on an industrial scale is little more than a very expensive way to give rich people lots of money and we who live in, and love, the Borders can only hope all candidates at the election get to grips with wind power and planning issues and engage with the electorate before polling day. Otherwise, they may well lose votes.”

z Having considered views from the local community, renewables giant E.ON has announced this week it has reduced the scale of its proposed wind farm at Corsbie Moor, three miles south east of Lauder, from 12 turbines to nine.