Lammermuirs now at saturation point with wind farms

THE Scottish Borders approved more MW of wind energy power than any other Scottish authority per 1000 population and the region has Scotland's second highest amount of wind farm electricity generating capacity according to 2008 national figures.

Across the region there are currently 163 operational wind turbines, 92 approved but not yet built, 103 pending, 30 refused, 48 (at Fallago Rig) pending appeal and scoping proposals for another 16 wind farms with a combined total of 220 turbines.

Of the 12 approved wind farm in the Borders, planning officials believe six of them could be expanded, including Crystal Rig to the south.

And while to some people it may seem like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, Scottish Borders Council has drawn up guidelines for wind farm development in the region, and the document is now in the public arena for a 12 week consultation period.

Both the UK and Scottish Governments are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and encouraging renewable energy schemes, the vast majority of which currently involve onshore wind farms.

Councillors at Monday's planning and building standards committee meeting praised the Local Plan guidelines on wind energy that aim to give more clarity about areas of protection across the region but they insisted that the guidelines should also recognise that "there is no space for further expansion and growing concern about the increasing cumulative impact of wind farms in the Lammermuirs".

"We have been proactive in supporting wind farms when appropriate but we are very concerned about the number of proposals we are getting," said Charles Johnston, SBC principal planning officer.

"The SPG (Supplementary Planning Guidance) on wind energy takes cognisance of the major concerns regarding the increasing number of wind farm proposals in the Scottish Borders and the increasing size of individual turbines and it must consequently ensure wind farm proposals are not allowed to a degree which will cause irreparable damage to the landscape, tourism and consequently the Scottish Borders economy," says the document.

"There are major concerns that the potential number of approvals in the Scottish Borders is completely disproportionate to the capacity of the landscape to absorb such developments and if all these proposals were to materialise they would have an adverse cumulative impact on the Borders landscape and its tourism value."

The guidelines map shows which areas in the Borders need significant protection such as Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (red), those requiring moderate protection (dark blue higher level, mainly towns and villages and light blue lower level), others where there are minor constraints (yellow) and those areas of least constraint (green).

In Berwickshire there are only small areas of green eg around Ecclaw and a stretch of land between Abbey St Bathans and Preston. The Merse valley is predominantly yellow indicating minor constraints but Mr Johnston pointed out that other planning factors would also have to be taken into consideration there, such as the fact that it is a low lying area of open landscape where wind farm development would be more prominent.

There is a 2km red buffer zone along all main routes in the Borders, including the A1 and A697 and a red zone along the Berwickshire coastline, where wind farm development would be discouraged

"Some people think we should be producing a plan that was wholly red but it wouldn't comply with national requirements and wouldn't stand up to appeal," added Mr Johnston.

"I think its a superb document walking a delicate path between national policy about wind farms and recognising that the Scottish Borders isn't a pin cushion," Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre.

"I think it's right that you haven't painted all the Borders red and it's important to recognise that solitary little wind turbines is something that we shouldn't go against, those that aren't dependent on the national grid. Now all you need is for the MoD to paint the rest of the Borders red!"

Councillor Trevor Jones said: "I can see this becoming one of the many documents that members of this committee frequently refer to. The sooner you get it into use the better and as soon as the consultation process is completed I hope you will be submitting it to the Scottish Government for approval."

At the same meeting councillors considered an application for three wind turbines at Brockholes Farm, Grantshouse, Berwickshire, and after a site visit and an agreed reduction of the height of the blades from 60m to 56m, planning committee members approved.

Mid Berwickshire councillor Trevor Jones said: "This is probably the least obtrusive site we have seen in terms of landscape."

Councillor Jones suggested continuing the application until the wind farm consultation exercise has been completed but councillors accepted that this would be against Government advice which specifically allows councils to determine applications during the consultation process.

There were almost 60 objections to the application and planning officers admitted it was "a very finely balanced application, its outcome dependent in the main on matters relating to landscape and visual impact".

They concluded that although these issues were significant national policy leans towards supporting renewable energy schemes and that this particular application is "a genuine attempt to achieve sustainable energy production at local level".