Torfichen wind farm – eighteen turbines, 180 metres high in Midlothian

Monday March 18th 2024

Gladhouse Reservoir Dougie Johnson

Here is my favourite photo of Gladhouse Reservoir taken for us by Dougie Johnson for the Mount Lothian application. This wind farm would be behind and along the Moorfoot Scarp.

This View has been written by Midlothian View Reader Celia Hobbs

I am grateful for the opportunity to contact the people of Midlothian about a planning application affecting Gladhouse Reservoir through Midlothian View.

Penicuik Environment Protection Association, PEPA, supported Midlothian Council from 2005 to 2015 to uphold the Local Plan and defeat two wind farms Auchencorth and Mount Lothian. We were both entirely vindicated as Government Reporters deemed Midlothian was too small and compact a county to accommodate turbines as high as 102 metres. I was the PEPA spokesperson so feel responsible at this present time to alert Midlothian residents to a new wind farm application which was submitted on November 28th 2023.

There is an application for eighteen turbines, 180 metres high in Midlothian along the Moorfoot Scarp, Torfichen wind farm. Compare this application to the failed Mount Lothian application, the other side of Gladhouse Reservoir, that had nine turbines 102 metres high and which the Reporter said was out of scale.

Objections to Torfichen were submitted to the Energy Consents Unit, ECU, but only two were posted on their website in time for Midlothian Councillors to read before a Preliminary Council Meeting on 12th March. I submitted mine on January 12th and it was posted with some others of a similar date on March 12th. As I will explain below, there is no statutory requirement for the ECU to publish representations and they warn it may take up to three months to publish them.  I think Councillors who represent the public should be able to view public representations when they are submitted.

I would be grateful if you would read the reasons for my objection to Torfichen wind farm.

With the whole of Scotland to choose from would you

  1. Choose a site where Scottish Water states that it appears at least ten turbines are sited in a Public Drinking Water Catchment area of a reservoir (Gladhouse) serving Midlothian and parts of the capital city of Edinburgh?
  2. Choose a site in a self-contained basin with hills on either side which four Government Reporters have already stated is too small and confined to accommodate large turbines?
  3. Choose a site which is in sight of a World Heritage site?
  4. Choose a site a short distance from a city of 554,000 and in a small county of 90,470 with high visibility?
  5. Choose a site that will destroy the view of the Moorfoot Hills from the Pentland Hills which has six hundred thousand visitors a year?
  6. Choose to ruin a view from a Regional Park that Edinburgh Councillors voted to be put forward for the next National Park?
  7. Choose a site near the biggest tourist destination in Scotland, Edinburgh? Foreign tourists spend just over twenty- seven million annual bed nights in Scotland. Forty-seven percent are spent in Edinburgh. The city benefits from just under half of the total spent by international tourists in Scotland.
  8. Choose a site next to the largest body of freshwater in the Lothians, Gladhouse, which is not only beautiful but is increasingly popular for recreation?
  9. Choose a site where there would be peat disturbance? NatureScot states the amount of peat disturbed would be ten times greater than presented.
  10. Choose a site that is next to a reservoir which is a Ramsar site, of international importance for birds such as pink-footed geese, osprey, curlew, black grouse and others, the disturbance of which concerns RSPB?

The application is for greater than 50MW so Scottish Ministers will decide whether this goes ahead using an Act of 1989 designed to force through traditional power plants. These were applications for plants sited with care by the Government with compensation for those affected, as with roads and airports. Sensibly they made public intervention in the decision difficult.

In the case of wind farms there is no grand plan, no compensation for those affected, just bribes for their neighbours with so-called Community Benefit. Wind farms are sited where a landowner puts their hand up, regardless of the merit of the site. I consider the 1989 legislation inappropriate.

Councils are the determining authority under different legislation for proposals under 50MW. If refused, applicants can appeal to the Department of Environmental Appeals costing Councils a great deal of money at Public Inquiries. The Government has overruled 46% of Council decisions since 2007 according to the Government website. As stated above, Midlothian Council defended their Local Plan twice with two applications, Auchencorth and Mount Lothian. A win does not mean Councils win their costs. With a Council Tax Freeze, this makes these decisions even more difficult.

To show the extent of control by the Scottish Government, there has not been a single wind farm built in England since Councils were given control of planning in 2012.

There must be a happy medium. I do not think it is right that in Scotland applications go to the Energy Consents Unit under 1989 legislation behind closed doors with little input from the public. Councils are only able to object and call for a Public Inquiry at great expense. This is happening all over the country with a petition before Parliament by Scotland Against Spin for the public to have more say.

This application makes a mockery of the assessment of four Government-appointed Reporters who spent weeks here over the years drawing their own independent conclusions that Midlothian is unsuitable for tall turbines.

In 2023 a New Planning Framework, NPF4, was adopted in Scotland, only giving protection from wind farms to the two National Parks and National Scenic Areas, a manifesto pledge of the Green Party. There is though the question of planning balance between the climate crisis and the nature crisis.

The DPEA has just announced an Appeal has been rejected for turbines at Corsock under the new NPF4. The Reporter discusses the planning balance and states

 Nevertheless I find the proposal would not comply with the development plan due to the lack of sufficient information relating to the additional requirements relating to peat disturbance and biodiversity enhancements.

NatureScot in their submission for Torfichen is not satisfied with this aspect and requires significantly more information especially due to the incorrect data on peat disturbance.

Statutory regimes still apply to wind farm applications and Scottish Water suggests this application does not conform to Drinking Water Protected areas under Article 7 of the Water Framework Directive. They need accurate measurements to confirm ten of the eighteen turbines are within the water catchment. In response to a different application in 2015, Scottish Water said, “We would request that turbines, infrastructure and other associated activities are located outwith the catchment to prevent any effects to drinking water quality.”

NPF4 states that “All Ramsar sites are also European sites and/or Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are extended protection under the relevant statutory regimes.”

It is an insult to Midlothian Council taxpayers to expect them to pay again for a Public Inquiry when they have had to pay for a previous Public Inquiry and Hearing for nearby failed applications.

It seems to me the sensible and right course of action would be for applications to be assessed by the ECU at an early opportunity with suggestions that applications should be withdrawn if not conforming to Directives and Statutes before any more expense is incurred by the developer, our hard-pressed Councils and our tax- funded Energy Consents Unit.

Thank you for reading this.

The application is on the Energy Consents website. Type Torfichen into the Simple search box

It is also now on the Midlothian website Planning – Applications Number 23/00795/S36 Click HERE

Representations to be sent to the ECU not Midlothian Council.

Comments on the application may be submitted to the ECU in the following ways quoting (Reference Torfichen  ECU00004661)

 

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