LOCAL campaigners helped pack the public gallery of the Scottish Parliament debating chamber to hear their MSPs launch a joint attack on the government’s pro-wind farms strategy.
Thursday night’s session even witnessed a few brave SNP members, including Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale’s Christine Grahame, refusing to let their political masters off the hook for the spread of turbines.
The reason for the packed attendance was a motion lodged by Lothians Labour MSP Neil Findlay, lambasting the lack of planning guidelines and absence of community involvement when it comes to the granting of turbine applications.
Mr Findlay described an application for a line of 250 turbines stretching from North Lanarkshire to Edinburgh’s south-west fringes, as like something from the American Klondike gold rush.
For procedural reasons there was no vote on Mr Findlay’s motion, but that didn’t stop Borders MSPs queuing up to speak.
Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire John Lamont said many of his constituents felt their communities were coming under attack from speculative wind farm applications.
“In many cases, a wind farm application might be opposed by residents, the community council, the locally-elected councillors, the council’s planning officials and the local planning committee, yet the developer may then appeal to a Scottish Government-appointed reporter who will quite often impose the will of the Scottish Government and approve the application,” he said.
“No wonder so many Scots feel that the planning system is stacked against them when it comes to wind farm applications.”
With 11 applications for a total of 156 turbines pending consideration by Borders planners, Ms Grahame said there had been an “extraordinary and unwanted proliferation” of wind farms across the region since turbines were first erected on Soutra a number of years ago.
The term ‘wind farm’, she said, is a misnomer. “These are industrial developments in the countryside. The hills are gouged out to make tracks where there were none and great turbines are taking up our lanes and through our villages.
“It is not just about location or size – it is, as other members have said, about the cumulative impact. There have been easy pickings in certain areas, and the fault has been with local authorities, which were naive in the beginning. It took the communities to point out what was happening beneath their feet.
“I am not letting the Government completely off the hook, but the first responsibility for smaller developments lies with the local authority, which needs to get it right and react responsibly to the community.”
Other Borders MSPs who contributed to the debate included Paul Wheelhouse (South Scotland) (SNP) who felt community interests had often been an afterthought for both parties in the Borders.
Environment minister Fergus Ewing told MSPs that Scottish Natural Heritage will be publishing new guidance shortly on the cumulative impact of wind farms, as well as guidance on landcsape and siting.
And it can’t come too soon for Scottish Borders councillor and executive member for planning and environment, Carolyn Riddel-Carre.
“Hopefully it will come soon because it’s very frustrating when you have a reporter from the Government wanting to override what the council decides,” she said.
“Scottish Borders Council agreed a lot of the early wind farm sites because they were easy at first. But now it is much harder and we have to be careful or the Borders will be a porcupine of windmills.
“After our people, the landscape is the Borders’ greatest asset.”
Lauderdale anti-wind farm campaigner and engineering professor, Jack Ponton, who was in the packed public gallery, says he was “appalled by the shameful absence” of SNP parliamentarians.
“I was, however, heartened by the contributions of local MSPs. I thought that John Lamont made some particularly good points. Christine Grahame now seems to have understood something of the feelings that this issue arouses amongst her constituents.
“But while our local representatives are speaking up on our behalf, I’m afraid that those with actual power are simply not listening.”