Letter to the Editor from Midlothian View reader Celia Hobbs.
This amazing view of Midlothian from the B7007 uninterrupted by industrial wind turbines is due to the efforts of four Reporters, Midlothian Councillors, Borders Councillors, Planning officials at Midlothian and Borders Council, Landscape Architects, Lawyers and Planning Consultants, Independent Experts, Penicuik Environment Protection Association (PEPA), Association to Protect the Environment at Leadburn (APEAL), Protecting Eddlestone’s Landscape and Environment (PELE) and the thousands of locals who objected to large wind farms in this area since 2005.
The Auchencorth, Spurlens Rig and Mount Lothian applications were all defeated over a period of ten years 2005 to 2015. All concerned were vindicated in their stance when the Auchencorth site was included in the Pentlands Special Landscape Area in 2016.
The Government has always maintained that wind farms will only be built in the right place. This area so close to the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh and the iconic Pentland Hills has been proved to be not the right place.
Thankfully the Cloich 1 wind farm, consented in 2006 has not been built on the Cloich Hills above the Edinburgh/Peebles Road. This would be visible on the left of the photo above.
The Cloich 1 application was different in that the Government owned the site, (Forestry Commission), and the application was put in by Government backed Partnership for Renewables. There was considerable opposition from SNH, the Government body on landscape. The initial application was for turbines 132m high. SNH objected and the height was reduced to 115m high. SNH still had reservations and Borders Council, supported by Midlothian Council, refused the application. It went to appeal and a Government Reporter gave consent. The consent had conditions on private water supplies. The consent was sold to EDF. The same company which together with Wind Prospect failed to gain consent for the nearby Mount Lothian wind farm in 2015.
Subsidies were abolished for onshore wind farms in 2012 and the wind farm has not been built. With changes in the subsidy regime, consented schemes all over Scotland with turbines round 100m high are now back in the planning system with new applications for larger turbines around 150m high. Cloich Forest 2 is one of these.
The increased height means the applications bypass legislation designed for wind farms administered by Councils and they go to the Energy Consents Unit, E.C.U. under legislation from 1989 designed for power stations. Councils can come in and trigger a Public Inquiry at great expense but in these straightened times it is hard to justify when so many Councils are overruled by the Scottish Government on appeal.
Under this 33-year-old legislation a scoping exercise is not required but developers can ask for a scoping opinion. This informs what should be included in the Environmental Impact Assessment, E.I.A. These are huge volumes of information on all aspects of the application.
The regulatory body is the Energy Consents Unit and they were asked for a scoping opinion for Cloich 2 wind farm in 2019.
The site is 3km outside Midlothian in the Borders Council area, on hills above the Edinburgh/ Peebles tourist route. Unbelievably Midlothian Council, (serving a population of 93,000,) Penicuik Community Council, (serving a population of 16,000) and Howgate Community Council, (which will bear the brunt of the construction traffic), were missed off the scoping list.
For two years between scoping 2019 and the submission of the application in June 2021, the E.C.U. did not notice the omission, despite a Gate Check in 2020. Midlothian Council was on the scoping list for the original application. It seems strange those working on the new application did not notice.
I noticed this omission and mentioned it in my objection document in September 2021. I was told by the E. C.U. in September the omission was “an oversight”.
There are 2017 regulations governing E.I.A.’s, saying Scottish Ministers must not adopt a scoping opinion until they have consulted interested parties. The Electricity Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017 Part 4 Clause 12(4) b.
I am told by the E.C.U. scoping is “voluntary” under the 2017 Regulations and because Midlothian Council has now been given the chance to put in a consultation, that is the end of the matter.
Having had long experience of three E.I.A.’s I do not believe a report is the same as having Midlothian’s interests at the heart of the E.I.A. There were 23 montages in the E.I.A. of views from Borders and only 3 from Midlothian. In my objection I show how many montages were required for the Auchencorth and Mount Lothian application just a few miles away from Cloich in Midlothian. Those turbines were 100m high. These are a few miles away but are 8 metres short of the Blackpool Tower. Theoretical visibility maps show the vast majority of Midlothian is impacted together with southern parts of the World Heritage Site of Edinburgh. The E.I.A is the basis of any Public Inquiry and carries great weight in the Reporter’s decision.
I understand the 1989 Act does not require a scoping opinion, but I do not understand how having asked for one the 2017 Regulations do not apply. How can Regulations be voluntary?
I think the whole process of wind farm applications is deeply flawed. I do not think developers should ignore Local Plans, Local Councils and SNH. In the Cloich Forest 1 case, SNH objected to turbines 132m high and had reservations at 115m high. Why should Borders Council taxpayers have to spend money for years on this application for turbines 149.5m high?
Why did Midlothian Council taxpayers have to spend years on the Auchencorth and Mount Lothian application defending the Local Plan? The failed Gilston application in the west of Midlothian took nine years and three Public Inquiries and a Judicial Review. There are several new applications there now.
I think there is something very wrong in Scotland. In England the planning system allows Councils and local people to have the final say. A wind farm developer was quoted in the press as saying in Scotland it is an “open door” whereas it is more difficult in England as fifty per cent of locals must agree and you must conform to Local Plans! What are Local Plans in Scotland for?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to pass on my concerns as I know how many residents of Midlothian care for this beautiful landscape and see themselves, as I do, as custodians for future generations. This is our county which delights residents and visitors alike. Defend it. Only in the right place the Government says and this is not the right place.
Please consider this matter.
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