The Yarrow landowner who stood to benefit from the proposed Broadmeadows wind farm has dubbed its rejection as “gutting”.
Farmer Alec Telfer described the moment he heard the final verdict: “I felt gutted. Kicked in the guts. I knew fine it could go either way, but I had no idea close to the time. You’ve just got to be magnanimous in defeat.”
Last week a Scottish Government reporter threw out an appeal lodged by energy company Greenpower, after the firm was refused consent last June to erect eight 112m wind turbines at Broadmeadows Farm in the Yarrow Valley.
The reporter, Michael Cunliffe, cited the proposal’s “unacceptable landscape and visual impacts, including, in particular, its effects on Broadmeadows/Yarrowford, the Southern Upland Way and the setting of Newark Castle”.
His decision ended the developer’s seven-year campaign to build a wind farm in one of the most picturesque landscapes in the Borders – a struggle which has divided the local community in the village of Yarrowfords.
Mr Telfer, who conceived the idea in 2000, said: “I didn’t set out to be divisive, but just to make some money out of the land I own, plus a bit of spin-off for the community. It was never our intention to upset people. But it did end up upsetting people, which is unfortunate. I just feel I’ve wasted 10 years of my life on a project that I thought was a good idea.
“It was an ideal opportunity to diversify,” he said: “Farming on its own, you’ve got to tighten your belt, and keep tightening, making yourself more efficient. It would have guaranteed an income, and increased income would have increased my spending power, enhancing the infrastructure of the farm.
“It’s really not easy,” said Mr Telfer, the owner of Breadmeadows Farm since 1992. “We’re not short of challenges, and there’s a whole lot of uncertainty for farmers now. Our farm’s secure, but the income’s dwindling. We now have to explore other forms of diversification – but they are very limited. Tourism is limited, because again there would have to be some development – which people would object to. There’s a resistance to change, as if they want everything preserved in aspic.”
Mr Telfer, chairman of the Selkirk branch of the National Farmers’ Union, added: “Farmers must make a profit before they can reinvest and employ people. If I make money I spend it, most likely locally. They say if you give a farmer a pound, he spends five to make things better. But he’s got to get the pound in the first place. If we don’t have incomes, we don’t have money to spend.
“If we’re to come out of the economic doldrums, we’ve got to be positive, and embrace opportunities,” he said: “Yes, there’s going to be change, but there needs to be change. I’m not being bitter: I’m just trying to come out with some suggestions about how you encourage inward investment for wealth creation in Scotland.”
Mr Telfer targeted the planning system: “What’s more annoying is that it took seven years to come to a decision: a total rejection. It would be good if local government were more proactive, helping people to invest by saying: ‘What do you need?’, or ‘If you do that, we’ll pass it through’. Then we’d invest. You don’t want to invest all this money in planning fees to have it turned down. The cost with total uncertainty – it’s not worth the risk. To go in without the slightest idea what the decision will be, it’s just like betting on horses.
“It’s not just wind farms - there are wider issues,” he said: “There’s an exodus of business-orientated folk from the Borders, and the drift is going to increase thanks to a lack of inward investment and encouragement. Young skills are moving out, because there are limited opportunities in agriculture. It’s as if the Scottish Government has decided the Borders is a retirement zone.”