Controversial plans for a wind farm south of Hawick thrown out by Scottish Borders Council last year have been given the go-ahead after an appeal to ministers.
Leeds-based Energiekontor has secured approval on appeal for its 12-turbine Pines Burn wind farm on the Harwood Estate, near Bonchester Bridge.
The plans were first filed by the developer, part of a German-based company, in January 2017 but were thrown out by the council’s planning and building standards committee last November.
Rejecting their officers’ advice, councillors concluded that the seven 149.9m-high turbines, plus five to stand at 130m high, would have an adverse impact on the landscape, as well as having an impact on nearby historical sites.
But Energiekontor submitted a plea for a rethink to the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division in January.
And this week Malcolm Mahony, the reporter appointed by ministers, overturned the rejection, finding that the project’s benefits outweighed any impacts on landscape or tourism.
He said: “It would have localised and limited impacts on landscape and visual amenity and on archaeological assets.
“Cumulative visual impacts would not be sufficient to reject the proposal.
“Evidence of significant adverse effects on tourism generally in this part of the Borders or specific tourism businesses is not persuasive.
“Other potential impacts could be appropriately managed through planning conditions and other control regimes.
“Finally, but importantly, it would generate renewable energy and contribute to carbon emission reduction targets, thereby supporting the Scottish Government’s objectives for renewable energy and a low carbon economy.”
All six community councils affected – those at Southdean, Upper Teviotdale, Hobkirk, Newcastleton, Denholm and Hawick – were against the proposals.
Philip Kerr, chairman of Southdean Community Council, spoke out on behalf of his neighbouring counterparts at last November’s planning meetings, and he said this week’s decision had come as a “huge disappointment” to locals.
“We are obviously disappointed that the unified community opinion both at Scottish Borders Council and a community council level has not really been taken into account in the decision that has been taken at a national level,” Mr Kerr he said.
“It has effectively played down local concerns and ignored local interest.
“They do have about 35 conditions to work through, and I am not sure how long that is going to take.
“From about four years ago, I had concerns about this one because of the way the rules had been drawn up.
“I thought it was going to be quite tight all the way through.
“I’m disappointed but I’m now looking to the Birkeyknowe decision, and that is going to be absolutely critical.”
An inquiry into the proposed 15-turbine Birneyknowe development at nearby Stobs Castle is ongoing.
County Durham firm Banks Renewables says the project could yield a £2.5m community benefit fund to support local groups and good causes.
However, Scottish Borders Council feels the scheme is not appropriate because of the landscape, visual and cultural impact it would have.
“Birneyknowe is the worse of all the applications in our area at the moment,” said Mr Kerr. “It would be a tragedy if it went through as that would open the flood gates across the whole area for others.
“The Pines Burn decision will have a bearing on the Birneyknowe decision.
“Pines Burn probably has less of an impact than Birneyknowe does – that is a horrendous one – but the two are right beside each other.”
However, Energiekontor project manager Duncan Taylor has welcomed the turnaround this week.
He said: “Energiekontor welcomes the decision to grant planning permission.
“In so doing, the suitability of the location and the benefits of the development have been recognised.
“We note the conclusions drawn by the Scottish Government reporter accord with those of the council in their committee report.
“We would like to thank those in the community who have supported us over the past two and a half years.”
The bid had divided opinion, 54 letters of objection having been tabled alongside 30 submissions of support during the planning process.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull said: “There will be very mixed feelings about this decision as the landscape will change dramatically and, in my view, this does not bode well for the future.
“I am aware that many of the community councils worked tirelessly and will be feeling extremely deflated and frustrated at this decision.
“There was a very loud message that the community were against this development. It will be interesting to see how the money will be spent from the community benefit funding, and only time will tell how this development will settle into the backdrop.
“This development not only affects the Hawick and Denholm Ward but also the Hawick and Hermitage Ward as it borders both.
“As further applications are processed, I sincerely hope lessons can be learnt from this and other applications that have gone before.”
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Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton said: “The decision to overturn Scottish Borders Council’s decision is nothing less than a disregard of local democracy.
“Scottish Borders Council based their decision on careful consideration of the planning evidence presented to them.
“Time and time again, we see the Scottish Government in Edinburgh interfering with local decision-making, which is contrary to the opinion of the majority of local residents.”
South Scotland Conservative list MSP Michelle Ballantyne added: “This is not the first time that we’ve seen central government try and foist an unpopular development on an unwilling community.
“Scottish Borders Council were clear when they rejected this application that the scale, form and location of this development would represent a significant and harmful change to the landscape.
“This is in tune with public opinion. It is clear that local people neither want nor need this development and they have made their views know. Perhaps the Scottish Government would do well to listen for a change.”
A Scottish Borders Council spokesman added: “The council notes the Scottish Government reporter’s decision.”
Revived proposals for a seven-turbine wind farm, to be named Barrel Law, near Roberton are due to be considered by local authority planners at their Newtown headquarters on Monday, September 3.