The rejection of plans for a 15-turbine wind farm near Hawick has been hailed a victory for the communities which fought against the development for almost five years.
Banks Renewables appealed to the Scottish Government after Scottish Borders Council threw out plans for the Birneyknowes wind farm development near Bonchester Bridge.
The County Durham-based firm’s South Lanarkshire operation had hoped to build the 132m-high turbines on land north, south, east and west of Birneyknowe Cottage, two and a half miles south east of Hawick and a mile west of Bonchester Bridge.
The idea garnered widespread opposition from locals, and in March 2017 councillors unanimously agreed to object to the development due to its landscape, visual and cultural impact, saying it would have “major significant impacts on the historic environment” including Rubers Law, a hill south of Denholm.
The size of the project meant a final decision lay with the Scottish government and a two-day public inquiry was held at Minto Golf Club one year on, last March.
The reporter assigned to the inquiry, David Liddle, has now concluded the benefits of the scheme’s contribution to renewable energy targets did not outweigh concerns about its visual and landscape impact.
A notice issued by Scottish ministers said: “The reporter had significant concerns about the nature, degree and extent of the adverse landscape and visual effects which would arise in this instance.”
That is a decision welcomed by Philip Kerr, chairman of Southdean Community Council and Chesters Wind Farm Action Group, who commended the report’s outcome and detail.
“The local community councils were pleased to see the decision from the Scottish Government, and the report accompanying the decision was particularly detailed,” he said.
“It was very clear to see the major concerns with the scheme, landscape and visual impact and residential amenity tied in closely with the major thrust of local community objections and those from Scottish Borders Council.
“By giving such detail it makes it easier for local communities to understand the decision making process, which they have been involved with from start. “
“Local communities had felt that from the schemes introduction that Birneyknowe along with Cummings Hill and Highlee Hill were particularly inappropriately located for the local area, and were amongst the earliest larger scale applications.
“The latter two were withdrawn and Birneyknowe has now been rejected. There are clearly a still variety of schemes at various stages of consideration, but Birneyknowe was a particularly ill-judged scheme and its refusal is a key decision which is to be welcomed.”
Hawick councillor Watson McAteer added: “It is hugely satisfying that the Scottish Government has finally listened to the residents of Bonchester Bridge and local area who fought long and hard to prevent the Birneyknowe wind farm.
“The reporters recommendation was made following a very active local campaign where the impact on the fantastic natural landscape and wildlife were key to refusal.
“I can only hope that this decision is replicated when further applications are being made in our community where the natural beauty of our Borderlands are being sacrificed for commercial profit.”
The site was chosen as it did not lie in any special protected area for landscaping, nature conservation or any archaeological or historical designations.
And while more than 100 letters of support were received initially, Southdean, Hawick, Hobkirk and Denholm community councils all opposed the development.
Hawick and Denholm councillor, Neil Richards, said: “I would like to say that the efforts of the various community councils involved were outstanding.
“The planning committee will obviously be vindicated because to take on developers as planners can be a costly exercise.
“Taking on developers is not exactly an even playing field either. It seems to be easier for them rather than the council or individuals taking on windfarm firms.
“The councillors in Hawick and Denholm have been fully behind the efforts of the community councils that have been up against it as its on their lands as such.
“I’m very pleased, I just hope we can win a few more now.
“Someone said to be that if Birneyknowe had been passed there would have been no application that couldn’t be passed. It was so inappropriate.”
Banks Renewables said that the project would provide a £2.5m community benefit fund and promised to improve access to jobs in the area by providing a new fund to boost training and workplace opportunities.