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Council tells Holyrood – Hands off our wind farm decisions!

Councillors of all party political hues and none have combined to send a clear signal to the Scottish Government that this region is at saturation point when it comes to “inappropriate” wind farms.

Even the SNP group, whose government at Holyrood has set a target of generating 100% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, joined the clamour for local decision-making on wind farm planning applications to be binding.

The call came at last week’s SBC meeting when Conservative councillor Keith Cockburn (Tweeddale West) proposed a motion demanding that council leader David Parker writes to the Scottish Government to express concern over the sustainability of the targets and the impact on the Borders countryside of the current policy.

In an impassioned speech, Councillor Cockburn claimed the Holyrood government had allowed the number of wind farms in the Borders to get out of control.

“We need a more balanced approach,” he asserted.

He explained that, in April this year, there were 306 wind turbines in the region, with a further 10 under construction and with another 41 having received planning approval. He claimed the parliamentary constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale had more wind turbines that any other in the UK.

“Despite consuming less than 10% of the UK’s energy, and having 10% of the population, Scotland hosts more than 50% of the UK’s onshore wind turbines,” said Mr Cockburn..

“As of April 2014 there were 2,315 operating turbines north of the border, from a total of 4,350 in the whole UK, with another 405 turbines under construction. These figures do not even take into account wind farms which are making their way through the planning process.

“This has caused five million trees to be cut down to make way for turbines across Scotland. These statistics contradict comments from the SNP Scottish Government that it is ready to cool its obsession with onshore wind energy.”

Mr Cockburn said the Holyrood renewable energy targets were “challenging and optimistic”.

“Groups such as the Scientific Alliance Scotland are raising doubts over the long term sustainability and viability of the use of wind farm schemes. These groups argue that not only is the efficiency of wind generated electricity debatable, but that it is also ruinously expensive.

“They say that turbines have well documented problems of intermittency, mechanical frailty, and have a short service life, suggesting that wind turbines will have gone in 20 to 30 years.

“Building and operating these machines is wholly dependent on a high level of public subsidy, while our roads and infrastructure are not built for carrying the exceptional loads.

“Survey results are warning us that badly sited wind farms are a serious threat to Scotland’s reputation as a tourism destination. Natural heritage tourism is worth £1.6 billion to the Scottish economy.

“I can understand why landowners like the financial packages they are given to allow wind farms on their land, but our public think we have had enough wind farms. We should listen to our electorate.

“I think the majority on this council agree that we have had more than our fair share of wind farm schemes here in the Borders. I believe that we have moved passed the point of balance.”

Mr Cockburn claimed that the Scottish Government had overturned a third of wind farm proposals refused by local councils.

“I know some of you may not feel that this motion sets well with your politics, but I say to you, whatever your politics you are a Borderer first and foremost, elected here by other Borderers.”

Mr Cockburn’s comments brooked no dissent, although, on the insistence of the SNP/Independent/Lib Dem ruling administration at Newtown, his motion was amended thus:

“The council instructs the leader to write to the Scottish Government expressing concern over the conflict between the sustainability of energy targets and their impact on landscapes in the Borders, being mindful of the present impact of turbines in his area…the council reaffirms that Scottish Borders planning policy is the best mechanism for balancing protection with appropriate developments.”

SBC’s planning committee is responsible for determining applications for wind farms which generate less than 50MW. Bigger developments are decided by Scottish ministers with the council treated merely as a “statutory consultee”.

On Monday, the committee, in that latter role, unanimously agreed to object to plans for 18 giant turbines at Cloich Forest, about a mile west of Eddleston in Mr Cockburn’s ward.

Members felt the proposal would breach the current local development plan (LDP) by causing unacceptable harm to the landscape and the visual amenity of residents.

A new LDP, with a more proscriptive interpretation of what constitutes an “appropriate” wind farm location, is due to be considered by councillors later this month after a 12-week public consultation period.

Not surprisingly, that document has already attracted opposition from renewable energy firms who feel it is over-restrictive.

Their comments and other responses to the new LDP will be considered by SBC on June 26.