Councillors have called on the Scottish Government to amend planning policies which, they fear, could result in a further proliferation of wind farms at unsuitable sites in the Borders.
Even SNP members, who dominate the ruling administration on Scottish Borders Council, have backed the call for Scotland’s planning policy (SPP) – in the gift of the Holyrood legislature and currently being reviewed – to be modified to prevent our region being swamped by massive turbines.
Underpinning a large chunk of the national strategy, which will govern local planning decisions, is a commitment that 100 per cent of Scotland’s energy needs will be met from renewable sources by 2020.
And the Scottish government considers that wind energy will play a “significant role” in achieving that target, asserting that “wind energy in appropriate locations” should be supported by local planning committees.
“South of the border, that goal is a much more realistic 20 per cent by 2020,” said Councillor Michael Cook when the local authority met in Kelso to discuss a formal response to a consultation on how Scotland’s planning framework should develop in the years ahead. The deadline for councils to have their say is July 23.
Mr Cook said that when he looked north from his home in eastern Berwickshire, the landscape was scarred with wind farms which SBC’s planning committee had rejected, but which were given the go-ahead on appeal to Scottish ministers.
“The Government in Edinburgh is being vainglorious in its pursuit of its renewables target,” said Mr Cook.
“The SSP puts great store in a planning system which delivers economic growth, yet tourism is a key player in the Borders economy.
“To meet the renewables target we could see a doubling of wind farms in our region yet the SSP offers us no additional protection.
“A huge amount of damage has already been inflicted on our most beautiful scenery and for more of the same to happen will be an unkind legacy to leave future generations.”
Mr Cook urged his colleagues to back a series of responses to the national planning policy, outlined in a report presented by Brian Frater, SBC’s head of planning.
That support was given without dissent. The report observed that the Borders “is starting to reach the stage where there is an increased potential for cumulative impact arising from wind farms and this is leading to an increase in public concern.
“Pressure [on the region] may increase as a result of the SPP proposal to provide enhanced protection for Scotland’s most valued landscape where wind farms will not be acceptable.”
But that category excludes, for example, the many sites of special scientific interest in the Borders.
Mr Frater claimed the SPP also gave “inadequate status” to other important areas in the region including scenic and long distance walking routes.
These “key tourism resources”, along with local natural heritage designations, must, said Mr Frater, be given an enhanced status to prevent development.
“Failure to give appropriate protection to essential resources for economic prosperity endangers the future prosperity of the Borders,” he added.
He felt the council’s own study of landscape capacity should be the baseline for all potential wind turbines and be a “key determinant in consideration of wind turbine applications”.
The council also wants Holyrood to reconsider the minimum permitted distance, currently 2.5km, between wind turbines and houses, given that the structures now averaged a height of 120 metres.
And the council strongly objects to the SSP provision that the offer of community cash benefits by wind farm operators could be material in determining a wind farm application.
“The council strongly proposes that the Scottish Government removes any reference to financial inducement as a material consideration in the determination of planning proposals for wind turbines.”
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