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Wind farms facing fresh restrictions

Wind farm developers could soon be forced to argue why their applications should be the exception to a general rule that the Borders now has enough such schemes, if a new regulatory policy is eventually adopted by the region’s planners.

Currently the planning system treats every wind turbine application on its merits, but that could soon change due to a possible new set of criteria which applications would have to meet in order to justify being an exception to the general proposition that the Borders is ‘full up already’ when it comes to turbines.

Planning officials at Scottish Borders Council are now proceeding with investigations into the possibility of adopting such a ‘by exception’ policy after consultation responses on the main issues for the next proposed Local Development Plan (LDP) flagged up high levels of public concern on wind farms.

The issue of the consultation responses to the main issues report was discussed at last week’s meeting of the full council.

Councillors heard there was “a strong body of opinion” that now considers the Borders to have reached saturation point when it comes to turbines and would prefer that such a ‘by exception’ policy is taken forward by the council.

In order to test this issue further, councillors endorsed the commissioning of a consultancy study, to report by the end of the year, that will set out what it calls a robust assessment in terms of economic benefit, landscape impact and community perception of current and future potential wind farm proposals.

Councillors agreed that finalising the wind farm element of the LDP should be delayed until the further studies were completed.

The council’s deliberations coincided with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond announcing a new target to generate the equivalent of half of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewable energy by 2015.

Mr Salmond revealed the target at the RenewableUK conference in Glasgow this week, but it comes, ironically, at the same time as controversy erupts over claims by Westminster, energy minister, John Hayes, that the UK had enough onshore wind farms.

And SBC planning committee vice-chair, Councillor Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale & Melrose, BP), thinks an ‘exception only’ policy is now the best way forward for this region to deal with turbine applications.

“So many wind farms have now been built that we have to be extra careful about future development. And I feel an ‘exception’ basis would be the best way as part of a new policy in the Local Development Plan.”

But Mr Watson admits there are serious risks that such a policy faces being challenged by Scottish Government ministers.

He said: “That’s why have to tread carefully. Any policy has to be well backed up with information and turbine studies.

“I don’t know of any other local authority in Scotland which operates such a policy, but the Borders has now reached tipping point when it comes to turbines.”

Planning chief Brian Frater told councillors last week that any new policy would have to be “robust and based on best evidence”.

Councillor Michael Cook (East Berwickshire, Ind), executive member for HR and Corporate Improvement, told the meeting that wind farms were the cause of more polarised opinion than anything else when it came to planning issues.

“There is a general perception in East Berwickshire, when it comes to wind farms, that the area is under seige by developers, he said.

Mr Cook said in strategic [government] terms, the policy on wind farms was “misconstrued and anti-democratic” in terms of council policy.

Mr Frater added that such a policy would need to be supported by the government, so decisions were not overturned by reporters.

Leading Borders anti-wind farm campaigner, Professor Jack Ponton, who chairs the Save Lauderdale campaign, said it would be “wonderful news” if SBC was to adopt an exception-based policy on turbines.

“But it comes at a time when Alex Salmond is calling for even more turbines to cover the Scottish countryside, so SBC would be up against people [government ministers] who want more wind farms but don’t have to live near them in the Borders,” commented Professor Ponton.

“But I think this shows that Borders councillors are listening and responding to the opinions of the local communities they serve.”