CAMPAIGNERS trying to protect the Lammermuirs were this week in shock following a decision to allow a windfarm in a national beauty spot.
The approval for 16 giant turbines on the Aikengall Ridge took protestors by surprise when it was granted by East Lothian District Council last Tuesday.
Widespread outrage erupted after councillors went against the recommendations of their own planners and voted in favour of the 125m turbines.
There was further anger when it emerged that only five of the 12 councillors at the meeting had actually visited the site which is on a prominent ridge on the eastern edge of the Lammermuirs.
Six councillors voted in favour with six against and the deadlock was broken by chairman Norman Hampshire using his casting vote in favour of the farm.
East Lothian's first windfarm would, he said, be good for the "global environment".
However it is feared that the decision will open the door to more windfarms on the Lammermuirs, adding to the ones already given the go-ahead by Scottish Borders Council.
A proposal for 62 turbines at Fallago Ridge is presently being considered by the Scottish Exectuive after being refused by Scottish Borders Council's planning committee.
There are already 25 turbines at Crystal Rig with at least 52 more to be built at the site.
Although Aikengall is beside Crystal Rig it is far more prominent and objectors say it will dominate the landscape.
The go-ahead was given for just 16 turbines but it is feared that the developers, Cheshire-based Community Windpower Ltd, will later apply to build more.
"This is just the start of it, we have lost the Eastern Lammermuirs to windfarms now," said a council insider.
A two year investigation by ELDC's planning department resulted in a recommendation to reject the application.
Brian Stalker, council development manger, said that although he supported the need to address climate change he recommended rejection of the Aikengall plan as it contravened the council's local structure plan.
He said it would have an unacceptable impact on the character and appearance of the landscape which is designated as of "Great Landscape Value".
It would also cause an "unacceptable" visual intrusion, he said.
Scottish Natural Heritage also objected on the grounds that the area is a site of special scientific interest and should be protected for the local wildlife.
East Lammermuir Community Council objected on the grounds that it would cause a drop in house prices and also have a negative affect on tourism.
Objectors said there would be noise pollution which will affect the surrounding villages of Oldhamstocks, Spott and Innerwick.
At the meeting, Councillor Kevin Jarvey pointed out that the farm would be twice as big as Torness Nuclear Power Station but produce a fraction of the electricity.
"The visual impact cannot be disregarded," he said, adding that although he supported the first two phases of Crystal Rig he felt Aikengall was a step too far.
However, when it came to the vote, there was a six/six split which was broken by Chairman Norman Hampshire using his casting vote to allow the plan to go ahead.
Now the Lammermuir Protection Group is taking legal advice to see if anything can be done to stop the farm going ahead.
"It seems extraordinary that they can go against their own local and structure plans," said protestor Neil Reynolds.
"It must be the first occasion that a planning department has recommended refusal for a windfarm and the planning committee has completely disregarded their views."
Cranshaws-based protestor David Lochhead said: "It's a travesty. They've contravened the whole planning process, their development plan and the main planning framework.
"They have also contravened the fact that the site is in an area of Great Landscape Value and contravened the fact that it is a site of special scientific interest.
"They've ignored the comments of SNH and their decision just does not make sense.
"This will sit right on the edge of the plateau and overlook the whole of the East Lothian coastal plain. It will be highly visible and have a profound impact on a site of special scientific interest."
Added Mr Lochhead: "It will be hard now to defend the rest of the area as it has already been degraded.
"Now both edges have gone and if Fallago Ridge gets the go-ahead it will just be one walkway of pylons."
Janice Winning, SNH operations manager for East Lothian said: "Scottish Natural Heritage is disappointed that the council has approved the application for a windfarm at Aikengall.
"We consider that there will be considerable cumulative impacts on the Lammermuirs arising from this proposal due to its proximity to the already approved substantial windfarm at Crystal Rig.
"We objected to the proposed Aikengall windfarm on the grounds of its adverse landscape and visual impacts. The proposal is on a prominent area of the hills, and would be particularly visible, unlike the existing Crystal Rig windfarm which is relatively contained. We believe that the development of the Aikengall site would greatly increase the visibility of wind turbines on the Lammermuir skyline in views from East Lothian.
"SNH supports renewable energy but we feel it is important to get the right windfarm in the right place and to the correct design principles. We had advised the council that we objected to the Aikengall proposal unless substantial modifications could be made in order to reduce its visibility on the Lammermuir skyline and to better co-ordinate its layout with the existing and approved Crystal Rig developments.
"SNH has expressed concerns to East Lothian and Scottish Borders Councils about the cumulative impacts of further windfarms within the Lammermuir Hills, especially now that Dun Law and Crystal Rig extensions are about to be built."