Battle lines being drawn over wind farm funding

Philip Kerr, chairman of Southdean Community Council.
Philip Kerr, chairman of Southdean Community Council.

A rural community council has vowed to fight for its fair share of a £3m wind farm funding pot after its Hawick counterpart turned its back on a deal agreed last year.

A verbal agreement had been reached between the seven community councils in Teviot and Liddesdale over division of the community benefit fund, set up after approval was given for the 12-turbine Pines Burn wind farm near Bonchester Bridge.

That fund, believed to be worth up to £120,000 a year for the next 25 years, was to be divided equally between the community councils, with Hobkirk set to get a double share because of its proximity to the development.

However, some members of the new Hawick Community Council revealed at its meeting earlier this month that they want to change the way the fund is distributed so that their home town gets the lion’s share of the cash.

At the meeting in the town’s high school on March 11, new joint vice-chairman Graham Marshall suggested that funds be allocated instead on the basis of each community’s population.

If agreed, that would mean that Hawick, with its population of 14,800, would get three-quarters of the cash.

Speaking at Southdean Community Council’s latest monthly meeting in Chesters last Wednesday, chairman Philip Kerr insisted that that arrangement was unacceptable and said protection ought to be put in place for rural communities.

He said: “There were initially five community councils involved – Newcastleton, Upper Liddesdale and Hermitage, Southdean, Hobkirk and Upper Teviotdale and Borthwick Water – then we thought it would be a good idea to bring in Hawick and Denholm but that had to be agreed by the original community councils.

“We had been making such good progress. All the community councils had agreed to take an equal share, with an extra share for Hobkirk.

“However, Hawick is now quite keen to bust the deal.

“All the community councils were working well together until Hawick had a by-election and the new chair decided that they should have a share based on population.”

Members agreed that that formula would be grossly unfair to the outlying rural communities that would lose out.

“We would like to reiterate that we support an equal share for each community council with a double share for Hobkirk,” Mr Kerr said.

“Southdean Community Council emphasises that if Hobkirk is getting an equal share, we all get an equal share. We are not prepared to negotiate outside of those parameters.”

He added that he had been due to meet with Hawick Community Council chairwoman Gillian Morgan last week but that there had been a mix-up over dates. “She said there is a lot going on at Hawick Community Council at the moment,” Mr Kerr said.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Neil Richards said he believes an agreement can still be reached.

“Other councils in other areas will claim they have had similar circumstances,” he said. “Personally, I shall do my damnedest to make sure there is no unfairness.”

Denholm Community Council is also calling for the original deal to be honoured and it agreed last week to discuss the issue further at its next meeting, to be held on Wednesday, April 17.