No third time lucky for controversial windfarm

Tuesday July 9th 2024

Wind Turbine Soutra

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Paul Kelly

There was no third time lucky for a controversial windfarm proposal which raised the hackles of villagers after it was again rejected by councillors.

When members of Scottish Borders Council’s Planning and Building Standards Committee met on Monday, July 8, they were asked to endorse a proposed eight-turbine wind farm at Wull Muir near Heriot.

The recommendation was made despite it being rejected twice already by the council, as well as receiving outright opposition from the local authority’s own landscape expert.

SBC’s chief planning officer Ian Aikman told committee members the revised and slightly re-located application bid could be approved ‘on balance’ because of the Scottish Government’s new planning framework which favours wind farm applications being granted.

But on a vote of six to three the committee refused the application due to the negative visual impact it would have on the landscape.

Speaking on behalf of Heriot Community Council, John Campbell said: “This is the third time the community has gone through this application and they are feeling a bit hard done by, if I’m honest.

“The proposal will be overwhelmingly visible up close and at long distance and local visual dominance is its primary characteristic.

“There are areas in Heriot and Nettlingflat, which is a settlement with 14 homes, 34 people I’m told, where you will see it on every day of life at about two kilometres distance, which is nothing for turbines of this magnitude.”

Michael Briggs, on behalf of the applicant Energiekontor, said: “The key difference between the application we have before us today and the one that was previously refused on appeal is that we have reduced the landscape and visual impacts that were associated with the previous refusal and that weight given to the benefits of onshore wind in the planning balances has increased.”

Councillor Viv Thomson said: “The new application definitely does reduce some of the visual impacts but it doesn’t eliminate them all and I still have some concerns on the impact on the area and I do not support this application.”

Councillor Sandy Scott read out a long list of organisations that raised no objection to the application and said the “clincher” for him was NPF4 – the recent Scottish government planning framework which supports onshore windfarms.

He added: “NPF4 acknowledges that the meeting of net zero climate ambitions requires the transformation of all sectors of our economy and society and every decision on future developments must contribute to making Scotland a more sustainable place.”

Councillor Neil Richards was not convinced by that argument, saying: “NPF4? Should we just go home and let planners get on with it, because that what it seems is being suggested that there is no democratic involvement here.

“Our landscape architect has objected, so is this third time lucky and do we just keep on trying it again by switching it around a little bit. We have spoken twice on this subject, so no it’s not going to be third time lucky as far as I’m concerned.”

There was a raft of objections submitted against the scheme, most notably from Heriot Community Council which submitted a comprehensive and detailed objection which councillors and the planning officer agreed were legitimate concerns.

SBC’s landscape architect submitted a detailed report which stated that the developer has failed to address the reporter’s concerns and there is a danger of turning the Lammermuirs/Moorfoot escarpment, a much-valued natural amenity, into a “wind farm landscape”.

In her report the landscape architect said the new application “did not satisfactorily address the reporter’s concern at the highly adverse landscape impact of the disruption to the escarpment”.

She also made clear that her objection to the application fell within the parameters of the new planning framework and the issues surrounding the application were not matters of policy.

Although the design has been changed, the increased height of the proposed turbines, with a maximum tip height of 149.9 metres, continued to be an issue and the scheme “still created major landscape and visual impact”.

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