Minch Moor plans blow for Swedish wind farm company

SWEDISH energy giant Vattenfall has declined to say whether it will appeal any decision to refuse approval for its controversial plans for a wind farm on the Minch Moor when Scottish Borders councillors meet on Monday.

SBC's planning committee will debate a recommendation by the local authority's planning officers that the 12-turbine application from the Swedish state-owned company's subsidiary - Vattenfall Wind Farm Power Ltd - be turned down on the grounds it would be detrimental to the environment and have a negative impact on the landscape, as well as contravening the council's own structure and local plans.

There have been almost 300 individual objections, along with a 183-signature petition lodged over the proposed scheme from Europe's fifth-largest electricity producer, which involves clearing 305 hectares of forest to make space for 12 turbines each measuring 67m high, or 100m high to the blade tips.

The whole application has been dogged by controversy and local opposition has been such that an action group was set up to fight the plans.

Walkerburn Action Group chairman Colin Kerr was delighted to hear SBC planning officials want the scheme rejected.

"That is very good news to hear after battling against this for six or seven years," he told TheSouthern this week.

"This was a bad development in the wrong place and I'm glad council planning officials have seen that."

Asked if he was worried Vattenfall might appeal any refusal, Mr Kerr added: "They probably will appeal - but then that will just be the next battle we have to fight."

As well as fears over the impact on the landscape and tourism from local community councils that serve the area - including Walkerburn, Innerleithen, Selkirk, Clovenfords and Ettrick and Yarrow community councils - there were also worries over the fate of the ospreys and golden eagles that have been spotted in the area in recent years.

In his official report, principal planning officer Craig Miller concluded: "... it is considered that the propsed wind farm will have a significant adverse impact on the landscape character of the area, including the hills between the Tweed and Yarrow Valleys, the valley landscapes themselves, the landscape designations and the wider countryside which is of high scenic value."

Mr Miller goes on to state that the wind farm would be in a landscape area of a type which could not accommodate the proposed turbines successfully.

And he adds that the development's significant detrimental visual impact on the area would be exacerbated by the impacts of widespread forestry clearance and aviation lighting.

Mr Kerr added: "We hope that councillors will not be too taken up with either how much money the company will make from this project or about how much money they might spend locally - very little once construction has finished. This should be about the long-term economic and environmental stability of the Borders. And if that's what it's about, then this project doesn't make much sense.

"I just don't believe Vattenfall's claim that tourism will be unaffected.

"Once the turbines are in place we'll still have the tracks and the pylons all along the Southern Upland Way. The Borders has been targeted by the companies because land is cheap, especially forestry land, and because we haven't really complained.

"We have a greater concentration of existing and planned wind farms here than anywhere else in UK. Are we trying to destroy our tourist industry? Are we rushing for a short term gain to destroy our environment? It's getting to the stage where you'll see wind farms in every direction from every summit.

"It's time to say enough is enough. Stop scattering small windfarms across the Borders just because that's profitable for companies - we're not going to save the planet by doing this, we'll help destroy it.

"I just hope that our councillors put the Borders first on August 9 and reject this wind farm."

Colin Ormston, Development Director for Vattenfall's Minch Moor Wind Farm proposal, would not comment on whether the Swedish company will appeal any refusal decision by councillors on Monday.

But he told us: "We have received a copy of the planning officer's recommendation and we are examining the details of the report. We are unable to comment any further at this time."