Residents 'devastated' at wind farm decision

NEWS that the Scottish Government has given the go ahead for a 22 turbine wind farm at Drone Hill on Coldingham Moor has provoked an angry response in the Borders.

People living nearby are devastated that, following a public enquiry believed to have cost SBC at least 20,000, Scottish Government Reporter Malcolm Mahony has overturned Scottish Borders Council's original refusal of the turbine wind farm, after PM Renewables appealed against the decision.

SBC has responded by saying that as the council's criteria appears to have been ignored in the decision, the Scottish Government should make all wind farm decisions themselves as local views and policies appear not come into the equation.

As expected, however, Darrin Rooney, director of PM Renewables said: "We are delighted that the Scottish Government has allowed our appeal and granted planning permission. Drone Hill is an excellent site for a wind farm, with high wind speeds and no unacceptable environmental impacts. The inquiry gave everyone the opportunity to discuss important aspects of the project in considerable detail including those concerns raised by Scottish Borders Council and a local communities group."

Margie Robinson, who lives less than a kilometre away from the site of the wind farm, has a different view though. " I feel absolutely devastated at this news," she said.

" We are not the only close neighbours by any means, but our farmhouse would be approximately 880 metres from the nearest turbine, and our fields and sheds even closer as they virtually border it, so it will have a major life altering affect on our life here."

In his report, Mr Mahony quoted the Scottish Government's Renewable Energy Technologies paper of 2002, and concluded: "Given the Scottish Ministers' commitment to addressing the important issue of climate change ... it is important for society at large to accept them (wind farms) as a feature of many areas of Scotland for the foreseeable future."

Mr Mahony's reasons for supporting the proposal included Scottish Natural Heritage earmarking Coldingham Moor as a 'Zone 1' area, meaning it provided the greatest opportunity for wind farm development.

He also criticised SBC for suggesting the moor could be included in an expanded 'Area of Great Landscape Value' (AGLV) after they had originally refused the application last year. The expansion of the AGLV would have given Coldingham Moor greater protection, but Mr Mahony wrote: "This was not an argument advanced until after the council's decision."

He added that the amended wind farm proposal would "satisfactorily fit in the landscape type" as the moor sat in a shallow bowl.

The fear among local groups for the negative effect on tourism was tempered by Mr Mahony, who said VisitScotland had not objected and the reduction of the turbines from 102 metres in the original application to 76 metres meant the wind farm would not be seen at the 'sensitive and popular' St Abbs Head nature reserve.

PM Renewables originally applied for permission to build 16 turbines at 102 metres in March 2005 on Drone Hill, under four miles from Coldingham village.

They were then forced to change their proposal in 2007 to 22 turbines at 76m because of opposition from aviation safety experts.

The plans have been strongly opposed throughout by local residents who set up the Coldingham STAG group and their pleas were heard by SBC who turned down the application last November.

A Coldingham Stop the Turbine Action Group (STAG) spokesperson said: "It is now a matter for the Scottish Government, but we feel that it would be a brutal and irreversible decision to force this development on such a small and beautiful landscape, metres from people's homes.

"A unique and populated coastal area will be devastated, without any significant contribution to renewable energy production in Scotland."

SBC have expressed disappointment at the decision.

Carolyn Riddell-Carre, SBC executive member for planning and environment said: "As an authority we are supportive of wind farm development and have consented many applications within our administrative area. We do, however, seek to ensure that wind farm development is located in areas which can absorb them. We had therefore considered that we must refuse this application at Drone Hill. The decision of the authority was in accordance with our planning officers' professional advice.

"The aim of the council's policies is to protect the unique asset of the Borders which is its landscape (and our planning policies have been accepted by Scottish Ministers).

"SBC's policies, therefore, oppose unacceptable impacts on the landscape, and limit development on coastal areas. This dramatic coastal area of Berwickshire is unique in the Borders and we do not believe this decision respects or reflects that fact."

The Reporter's decision finds: that 76m turbines would place no unacceptable impact on the landscape; because there is no definition of "coastal" in the council's policies we cannot limit development in "coastal" areas.

"We disagree fundamentally with these findings," added Councillor Riddell Carre.

"We fear that the full and proper consideration of wind farm development applications is being unduly influenced by a national agenda.

"It would probably be best if the Scottish Government took unto itself the determining of all wind farm decisions in future."