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Businessman’s fury over wind farm sponsorship

A Borders businessman is accusing a high-profile wind farm company of “buying support” for a controversial development near Denholm.

Alan Bailey, who owns Ruberslaw Wild Woods Camping, is furious that Banks Renewables “appear to have been cultivating support via sponsorship deals tied to a commitment to support wind farm applications”.

And despite having a tourist-reliant business, he says he was never consulted over proposals to erect fifteen 132m high turbines at Birneyknowe.

And not only is he critical of Hawick Rugby Football Club (HRFC), which sent out an email containing three pro-forma letters to members last month asking them to support the bid, but also that local knitwear manufacturer Peter Scott has been courted with an offer from Banks to sponsor apprenticeships.

The deal with the rugby club is believed to include £10,000-a-year cash plus financial support for the club’s corporate events. Sponsorship of the knitwear apprenticeships, according to Peter Scott’s operations manager, Alistair Young, who was quoted on Banks’ website, are worth “an average of £15,000”.

In an email to HRFC members, club official Charlie Oliver wrote: “Our main sponsor, Banks Renewables, are at a crucial stage in the application process for the Birneyknowe wind farm. As a club we are committed to support their bid. I have been asked to gather letters of support on behalf of Banks and would be grateful, if you are so minded, for your help.”

Members were then asked to fill in one of three letters and to send them back to Mr Oliver who would pass them on to Banks’ project development manager. Ten days after the initial email, Mr Oliver sent a reminder asking members to return letters of support.

Speaking to The Southern this week, Mr Bailey said: “These companies are not going to be impacted by these proposals in the slightest. Banks is buying support from people who, in the main, are not going to have an opinion or be affected at all.”

And Mr Bailey, who lives at Spittal Tower added: “Banks are aware of our business concerns as they have produced a wire frame that shows that our most important hill pitches will see all 15 turbines. So, to be completely omitted from their tourism impact assessment can only be a deliberate attempt to avoid admitting that their business is in direct conflict with our successful new tourism business.”

Mr Bailey is also concerned about further proposals for a development at nearby Cummings Hill, adding: “Seeing just one, never mind two windfarms will destroy our unique selling point for our wild hill pitches, which is based on a wild, not an industrial landscape.”

In a statement to the paper, Mr Charlie Oliver, said: “It’s important to clarify that the sponsorship has absolutely no strings attached to it in terms of whether or not we support Banks’ plans for a local wind farm.

“However, due to the many benefits the project could offer the local community and economy, and due to the professionalism shown by Banks, we made the decision as a club to voice our support for their project and also encouraged our members, who are of the same opinion, to do so.”

Banks Renewables told the Southern: “Irrespective of what decision Scottish Borders Council makes on our planning application for the Birneyknowe Wind Farm, we are glad to have made a positive and meaningful contribution to community life in this area during the past two years.

“While our support of groups to date is independent of and separate from the planning process, we are clear that should our plans be given the go-ahead, the wind farm would continue to contribute positively to the surrounding area for the next 25 years.

“Funding would also be created for workplace training and job-creation schemes and apprenticeships, while local businesses will have the opportunity to benefit from a significant amount of all construction-related contracts, delivering a real shot in the arm to the local economy.”

Knitwear manufacturer Peter Scott failed to respond to our call by the time of going to press.