Borders countryside 'vandalised' by wind turbines

A TORY councillor has delivered a bitter attack on the Scottish Government and its drive to hit renewable energy targets by allowing a proliferation of windfarms in the Borders.

"Our countryside is being vandalised with these damned industrial machines because the adminstration in Holyrood does not have the guts to go down the nuclear route," blasted Jim Fullarton (East Berwickshire).

His comments, though not endorsed by Scottish Borders Council's planning committee, did, however, reflect a frustration among councillors that their views on individual windfarm projects in the region are being consistently ignored.

In the latest example of what they perceive as local democracy being sidelined, Martin Mahony, a Reporter with the Scottish Government's directorate of planning and environmental appeals based in Falkirk, upheld the appeal of PM Renewables Ltd for 22 wind turbines at Drone Hill near Coldingham, ironically within visual range of the Torness Nuclear Power Station.

A year ago, SBC, backed by many objectors, rejected the proposal: an increase on the 16 turbines for which the company had originally sought consent in 2005.

In upholding the appeal, Mr Mahony twice cited a Scottish Government planning advice note on renewable energy technologies which stated: "There are no landscapes into which a wind farm will not introduce a new and distinctive feature.

"Given the Scottish ministers' commitment to addressing the important issue of climate change and the contribution expected from renewable energy developments, particularly windfarms, it is important for society at large to accept them as a feature of many areas of Scotland for the foreseeable future."

There are currently over 20 applications pending for windfarms in the Borders which, because they will generate less than 50megawatts, are in the gift of SBC. More productive installations go straight to Holyrood for determination.

"It's time the government in Edinburgh to came clean and stop kidding us that we have any meaningful input into wind farm decisions," said Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Selkirkshire).

"On this occasion, councillors supported the objections of their own planning officials, but still it was not good enough."

And a third Tory councillor waded in. "The policy cited by Mr Mahony means that whatever we decide locally, it will be dismissed," said Trevor Jones (Mid Berwickshire).

"We cannot win...it's game, set and match."

SBC solicitor Nula McKinlay claimed Mr Mahony had never dismissed a single appeal from a renewable energy company, while planning officer Ian Aikman said SBC had so far been unsuccessful in having its refusal of any windfarm bids confirmed.

Noting that Mr Mahony is due to preside over a public inquiry into the Dunion Hill windfarm project near Jedburgh in January, Mr Aikman added: "I hope he goes into it with an open mind."

But that was not good enough for SNP councillor Donald Moffatt (Mid Berwickshire). "If Mr Mahony has never rejected a windfarm appeal, then he cannot be objective. We should write to ministers and say we have no confidence in him and he should be replaced because he is clearly windfarm-friendly."

The committee backed this call and agreed that SBC leader David Parker should write to Scottish finance minister John Sweeney to express members' concerns that the government's zeal in meeting national renewable energy targets should not override decisions by democratically-elected local councils.