It’s an investment which is set to make one of the richest aristocrats in Scotland even richer.
But when a company backed by the wealthy Duke of Buccleuch gave notice that is was applying for an eight turbine windfarm development, it also managed to crush the dreams of thousands of people living in one of the country’s poorest areas.
It all centres around a decision by energy Minister Fergus Ewing to reject a popular plan for a 30 turbine development in Sandy Knowe at Kirkconnel in Dumfries and Galloway. Attached to the original application by Burcote Wind was a funding pot of more than £12m which would have gone a long way towards improving prospects for the some 4500 residents living in Kirkconnel, Kelloholm and Sanquhar. The developer had promised to pay the money over 25 years into a community development fund if the Sandy Knowe proposals had gone ahead.
However, Buccleuch, Britain’s biggest private landowner, is involved with a company developing a smaller windfarm at nearby Glenmuckloch. And there is no such community development deal on the table.
On February 12, 2015 a company involving Buccleuch gave formal notice that it would be applying for planning permission for eight wind turbines at nearby Glenmuckloch, an old open-cast coal mine.
Areas around Kirkconnel and Kelloholm were recorded as being in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland in the last Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation report released in 2012.
Sanquhar also came out as the fifth most vulnerable town in Scotland according to a Scottish Agricultural College’s Rural Policy Centre report, also released in 2012.
Job prospects for young people are virtually non-existent according to locals, and the transport in and out of the area is poor.
The nearest higher education facility is 30 miles away in Dumfries, and it is the meat processing factory in Kirkconnel which provides much of the work for young people.
Nearby the remains of open pit coal mining, which used to provide jobs for many of the area’s residents, lie derelict and stand as a symbol of the realities of living in deprived rural areas.
Norman Burns, vice chairman of the Royal Burgh of Sanquhar Community Council, said a number of plans to develop the area were no trashed.
“This plan with Burcote, we’ve been working on it for four years. It’s aimed at the young people mainly. Dumfries and Galloway college came up, and the idea was for training for young people who leave school.
“Now if they want further education they have to go to Dumfries which is 30 miles away or Ayr which is 35 miles away.
“The public transport buses are just very infrequent and unreliable, that was going to be improved. The college was talking about some outreach classes in Sanquhar and Kirkconnel.”
Along with extra college facilities and improved transport, local businesses were going to be encouraged to take on apprentices to help keep business in the area.
“There’s a factory in Kirkconnel called Brown Brothers which pays minimum wage, it’s a meat processing plant. It doesn’t suit everybody.” explained Burns.
“If [young people] don’t go there they just stay in their bed, they don’t get up till the afternoon and their routine is just non-existent.
“If they could get some training, get up in the morning with somewhere to go, they would have a goal.
“At the moment there are no incentives and this was the real gateway to open that up … To try and do something here.”
Along with opportunities for the young, elderly were hoping to benefit from more than £1m put towards sheltered housing, lunch clubs and hobby classes.
Existing sports clubs in the area are currently struggling to survive – and they had also hoped for a slice of the community development cash to keep them going.
Jim Pirrie, treasurer of Sanquhar Bowling Club, has been with the club for 30 years.
Now 80, he fears it could be forced to close its doors due to dwindling membership and crumbling facilities if external funding can’t be found.
Pirrie said: “The bowling club, like may others in the area, suffers from dropping membership and an ageing membership.
“Young people are having to move away and we’re losing people.
“We are just not getting people in, they have to go to university and colleges and there’s nothing here for them at all.
“The Golf club is in the exact same way, we’re suffering really badly as a result of this.”
The club’s bar, he said, has virtually no income as visitors who come for tournaments are usually driving and so are unable to drink, while the venue is in need of urgent restoration.
“Most pubs and clubs will be in the same boat.” Pirrie added. “Obviously our income is dropping quite considerably.”
But for Pirrie, the issue isn’t just about income. The club opened in 1851 and it’s closure would mean a loss of history to the area.
“Our first secretary was the first secretary of the Scottish bowling association, and he actually wrote one of the first books about bowling – Brown’s Manual of Bowling.
“We have very strong historical links and it would be a big loss to the town if it had to shut.
“If we lost that we’d have simply nothing. What is going to be set up in a place like Sanquhar?”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is driving forward a community energy empowerment programme to ensure that local communities derive maximum benefits from the local energy resources around them. But any proposed scheme, whatever its potential local rewards, must not be at the cost of the environment.
“The Energy Minister agreed with the findings of Scottish Natural Heritage who raised serious concerns over cumulative impact and adverse landscape and visual affect the wind farm would have in Upper Nithsdale, Dumfries and Galloway.
“The Scottish Government wants to see the right developments in the right places, and Scottish Planning Policy is clear that the design and location of any wind farm should reflect the scale and character of the landscape and should be considered environmentally acceptable.”
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