A wind farm, a quarry, a railway ... and the end of a rural idyll

FOURTEEN jobs will be created when Aggregate Industries – one of the world largest building materials companies – reopens and extends Hazelbank Quarry near Fountainhall.

The firm is currently consulting with the community councils of Stow and Heriot on its plans for the site, just off the A7, formerly operated by Tarmac.

It is understood the expansion will be at the expense of an area of forest at the top of Hoppringle Hill – just 300m from the house which has been home to the Eyres for the last 20 years.

And for Kay Eyre, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

For the family already lives on the doorstep of the 18-turbine wind farm at Toddleburn which is approaching completition.

And on Rowanbank, the next hill to the the south of their isolated cottage, renewable energy giant npower has recently unveilved plans for a 25-turbine facility and is due to apply to Scottish Borders Council for planning permission in December.

The upshot of this disruption to their rural idyll, likely to be exacerbated when the Waverley railway line is built, is that the beleaguered Eyres have now approached estate agents with a view to selling up.

Ironically, neither Kim, 45, nor her husband Joe, 46, objected when consent for the Toddleburn project was first sought.

“We actually believe in the need for renewable energy and, although we think there are probably better ways of generating it, such as off-shore or hydro, we never want to be nimbyish,” said Mrs Eyre this week.

SBC’s planning committee, however, backed those who did protest and it took an appeal to the Scottish Government before Toddleburn was given the go-ahead.

This week, Mrs Eyre reflected on how life has changed on the slopes of Toddleburn.

“It is truly tragic that we are being driven from an area we have loved for its natural beauty and from a community we have supported through school, church, toddlers group and the WRI.

“Notwithstanding the enormous visual impact, for the past 18 months our peaceful existence has been shattered by living on the path of the construction of the Toddleburn wind farm.

“The promises made to us by the wind farm operators have so far been met, but not without a fight. The volume of traffic going past our house has been huge and a complete surprise. The speed it travels – despite our repeated protests – the litter left behind, the mud, the clouds of dust and attitude of some of the contractors, but by no means all, have been unpleasant revelations.

“All summer we have shared access with the contractors. When the vast convoys bringing components were scheduled to arrive we were warned in advance, but, due to their size and health-and-safety rules, we were effectively prisoners in our house.

“On one occasion when the convoy broke down, we were trapped indoors for two hours and, with three children, I was worried what would happen if one became ill and we had to go to hospital.

Mrs Eyre said her daughers Katie, 13, and Milly, 11, are keen riders, while son Edward, 10, used to roam the hills on his bike.

“The girls have been riding unaccompanied because I have been injured, but their choice of routes, given the likelihood of meeting enormous vehicles on the track, has been severely limited and none of the children will be able to return to their favourite haunts until the turbines are in place and the construction team leaves.”

Mrs Eyre went on: “Imagine our despair when he found out about the Rowanbank proposal, alongside the route of the former Fountainhall to Oxton railway which is also favoured by riders and walkers, and so big it will go straight to Scottish ministers for approval.

“Basically, Soutra, Toddleburn and Rowanbank, if allowed, will form an unbroken line of turbines between the A68 and A7 over a massive area of previously unspoilt land, surrounding Oxton on three sides and our house on two.”

Mrs Eyre also fears the Galawater valley, another popular walking route due to be bisected by the Waverley line, will become less accessible.

“I have been unable to speak to anyone on the rail project to confirm there will be access for pedestrians, cyclists and riders to cross the current Fountainhall road end,” she explained.

The decision to go to estate agents came this week after Mrs Eyre met two representatives from Aggregate Industries and heard of its plans to expand workings at the top of Hoppringle Hill to minimise the visual impact on the other side of the valley.

“Our happy rural lives are now set to be literally blighted on all sides and despite our strong conviction of the injustice, we now have an almost overwhelming feeling of hopelessness,” said Mrs Eyre.

A spokesman for Aggregate Industries said the quarry operations would employ 14 full-time staff and a further six on short-term contracts.

“It could be several months before a planning application is submitted because we want to consult thoroughly, through all the proper channels, with the local communities who may be affected,” added the spokesman.