The residents of Wanlockhead and the surrounding district will be able to hear the Duke of Buccleuch’s proposals to develop a 140-turbine wind farm – potentially one of the largest in Scotland – in the scenic Lowther Hills, in Dumfries and Galloway on Wednesday (June 24th) evening at a meeting to be held in the Wanlockhead Community Centre at 7pm.
This will be one of many “engagements” with local communities in a bid to win them over, as well as “test the water”.
The Duke has a wide range of options on a range of high hills that start near the Ae forest and run close to Muirkirk. Fortunately he faces no objections from tenant hill farmers, as the land under consideration is now farmed in-hand by Buccleuch Estates. There are large extensive hill farms such as Locharben, Mitchelslacks, and Garroch near the Ae Forest, then Dalveen that straddles the A702 linking the M74 to the A76, Glenim and Auchengruith that straddle the B797 that also links the motorway to the A76 after wending its way through Leadhills and Wanlockhead, and to the west of the CrawicK Pass that straddles the B740 link to the A76 after passing through Crawfordjohn, the remote farms of Blackgannoch and Fingland in the vicinity of Muirkirk.
Those farms, and others on the Queensberry estate no longer have tenant farmers as they were not replaced after they retired, moved on, or surrendered their leases in favour of very tempting cash offers. They are now run as extensive sheep farms by a skeleton staff of shepherds.
Such arrangements generally ensure land qualifies for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support schemes.
Publicly the Duke’s representatives say that nothing has been decided on, and that they want to hear the views of local communities. From what I hear and read, I suspect that plans are well advanced and the proposals are so substantial that they will be considered and decided upon by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing rather than Dumfries and Galloway Council.
I used to be chairman of the Mid and Upper Nithsdale Planning Committee of Dumfries and Galloway Council when I was a councillor twenty years ago. Even in those days we could see an alarming increase in interest in our region from wind farm developers, and decided to develop an Indicative Planning Strategy for Wind farms in Dumfries and Galloway. In essence we identified areas where we would never countenance their development for a range of reasons, others where we indicated we were open to persuasion, and areas where we had no objection. The current Dumfries and Galloway Local Development Plan has a section on wind farms, with supplementary guidance, that is a well-considered refinement of the old policy we pioneered.
In essence, we identified a ridge of hills to the south west of the River Nith where turbines were welcome, because they overlooked slag heaps from deep mining, open cast mines, industrial estates and the settlements of Sanquhar, Kelloholm and Kirkconnel. The hills on the other side of the Nith, and particularly the Lowther Hills we designated of such substantial beauty and importance to local tourism (the Southern Upland Way wends its way through them) that we deemed them to be inappropriate for such development. There were also important habitat and species to be protected, not least the beautiful but persecuted Hen Harrier, and I have heard reports that there are several pairs nesting in the vicinity of Wanlockhead this year. The modern Local Development Plan appears to be in broad agreement with the principles we outlined 20 years ago.
Unusually, a proposed development for 30 turbines on the preferred hills on the south west of the Nith at Sandy Knowe, that was supported by Dumfries and Galloway Council and the overwhelming majority of local residents, was rejected by Fergus Ewing.
Paradoxically, the developers at Sandy Knowe have submitted slightly scaled down proposals that will now be considered by Dumfries and Galloway Council and presumably approved.
The point I make is that because the Duke’s proposal is so massive, it has been taken out of the hands of the local council and will now be decided in Edinburgh. That cannot be right for local democracy, so it is incumbent on local residents to speak out clearly and make their voices heard at every level.
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