ALARMED about the growing number of wind turbines cropping up across the county Berwickshire Civic Society has formed a special sub-committee to debate their impact on the landscape and heritage, but a number of the points raised by the group have been described as “inaccurate” by Scottish Borders Council .
At the group’s first meeting members focused on the spread of turbines from the Lammermuirs to the Merse, particularly the number of current proposals and their possible impact on the welfare, amenity and property values of residents involved.
And they are likely to be further alarmed by the recent revelation that Fallago Rig wind farm developers, North British Windpower have invested in a £20 million radar system to counteract any ‘black holes’ caused by the large turbines interfering with radar signals. If the Lockheed Martin TPS 77 radar system proves capable of eliminating radar interference it could open up more of the area for turbine applications as radar interference would no longer be a reason for refusal.
“The general discussion revealed the potential massive increase in wind turbines which are being proposed by developers.” said a society spokesperson.
“Some 114 of varying sizes can be identified in Berwickshire alone, and more proposals are in the pipeline.
“The main issue raised by development on this scale is the cumulative effect on the landscape.”
Larger scale wind farms, where turbines can be up to 125 metres in height have long been a source of tension - many people living close to the structures opposing development while wind farm companies and the Scottish Government cite their green credentials and role as a renewable source of energy.
However, the civic society are concerned that the balance of power is in favour of developers.
“A major worry was the manner in which developers appeared to be working in a way designed to reduce public discussion to a minimum. Examples were given of legally required public ‘exhibitions’ of proposals held with poor publicity and at times when the bulk of the population were at work. In other cases projects were given names unfamiliar to residents.
“At the scoping stage, an energy company’s proposal is for private discussion between community councils and selective bodies and cannot be found on the Scottish Borders Council website. Only when consultations are complete does the scoping report become available. Even then, it is obscurely publicised on the websites of various public authorities.
“As a result, many of the proposals are likely to be accepted under ‘delegated power’- without being discussed by full council or even by the planning committee of council.
“There appears to be no discussion of the cumulative effect of turbines as individual projects are passed as if their impact on the landscape and economy of Berwickshire is as trivial as a new window.
“Elected representatives either do not know what is happening or are not prepared to promote public discussion.
“There is a need for major policy discussions at local, Scottish and UK level.
“A major danger identified was that people see the spread of turbines as inevitable and they could do little about it in the face of big business interests, the Holyrood government and ‘Brussels’.
“This is quite wrong.
“It is important that all projects are examined by everyone who might be affected by them and that objections are submitted to Scottish Borders Council.
“The Berwickshire Civic Society demands that Scottish Borders Council amends its rules and practice with immediate effect so that all turbine proposals are subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment and NO turbine proposals should be considered under ‘delegated powers’ but should come before the planning and building standards committee following a mandatory site visit.”
Scottish Borders Council, however, refute some of the claims made by the civic society and countered: “It is true that the council has seen a significant rise in the number of screening and scoping requests for wind turbine/farm development, which have then materialised into applications for both modest scale and commercial scale projects. This is likely to be a continuing trend due to government policy and available subsidy.
“However there are quite a number of inaccuracies in the statement from the Berwickshire Civic Society.
“There is a legal requirement for developers of major applications (20MW and above) to carry out pre-application consultation with communities over a minimum of 12 weeks prior to lodging their application. All developers are meeting the statutory minimum, and many have gone well beyond that requirement.
“The council has no control over the naming of windfarm sites but does publish a windfarm database with maps on the web site that shows where they are, their scale, size of turbines, application reference number and applicants details for members of the public to view. The database also shows the location and similar information on the scoping/screening requests. Once a scoping/screening opinion has been issued this is also placed on the web site.
“The provisions for screening and scoping request are dictated by statute and merely relate to determining if an environmental impact assessment is necessary and if it is, to set out the scope of what it should contain.
“We also have a list of all anemometer mast applications for people to see. (http://www.scotborders.gov.uk/life/planningandbuilding/planningapplications/29428.html).
“This is far from hidden or obscure and is very well used by many local groups as well as windfarm developers.
“The scheme of delegation is also published on the web site. All major wind farm applications must go to committee. For local developments there is the ability for member call-in to committee and that if there are five objections to an application (and we are minded to approve) this must also go to committee. It would be a matter for council (and Scottish Ministers to agree) for the scheme to be modified.
“The question of cumulative impact is a significant material planning condition and is referred to extensively in the recently produced Supplementary Planning Guidance on Wind Energy. I would refute strongly the implication that this is not taken into account by officers in considering these cases.
“It is not possible for us to ask for an environmental impact assessment on all applications. The provisions for when, and if, they are required are controlled by regulation and we are not at liberty to set that aside.”