Wind farm plans rejected for third time in nine years

A long-running bid to site a wind farm near Heriot has been given the thumbs-down for a third time.

By Darin Hutson
Monday, 17th February 2020, 3:37 pm
Updated Monday, 17th February 2020, 6:16 pm
How Gilston Hill wind farm, near Heriot, would have looked if it had been approved.
How Gilston Hill wind farm, near Heriot, would have looked if it had been approved.

Forsa Energy Services first put in plans for 16 wind turbines north-west of Gilston Farm in 2011, nine of them in next-door Midlothian, but they were rejected by councillors for the two regions the year after, and appeals to the Scottish Government were turned down too in 2013.

That knockback sent the Inverclyde-based developer, formerly known as 2020 Renewables and since taken over by German firm BayWa, back to the drawing board, and it came up with scaled-down proposals for seven 127m-high turbines at the 170-hectare site in 2017, only to see them rejected by Scottish Borders Council planners.

It appealed against that rejection to the Scottish Government’s planning and environmental appeals division and had it overturned in February 2019 by reporter Trevor Croft.

That thumbs-up, in turn, prompted Heriot Community Council to appeal to the Court of Session to have the application redetermined by a different government reporter.

Its legal action proved successful, forcing the appeals department to quash its previous ruling and take another look at the plans, and, having done so, it has now reversed the green light given for the wind farm a year ago.

The community council has welcomed that decision and is hoping it will bring the long-running controversay over the plans to an end.

A spokesperson for the council said: “This application has been very controversial, with many people holding strong views on both sides.

“As the community council, it has been our role to try to represent both the community’s best interests and the interests of those who would be most directly impacted on by the development.

“The latest decision by this reporter is the third one for a wind farm on this site after two separate applications.

“It appears to be a thorough review of all the various matters that were required to be examined, with a carefully argued decision on the overall balance of reasons why this site is not suitable for a large wind farm.

“This is in contrast to the previous reporter’s decision, which was set aside by the Court of Session with the agreement of the Scottish Government.

“This saga has preoccupied the community for some considerable time. Hopefully, we can now focus on other issues of importance to Heriot.”

In his decision notice, reporter Mike Shiel writes: “Despite the contribution that the proposed wind farm would make to helping to meet renewable energy targets, I conclude that this and other potential benefits would not outweigh the environmental harm in the particular circumstances of this case.

“I therefore conclude that there are no material considerations which would justify granting planning permission.”

Branding the proposed development a blot on the landscape, Mr Shiel says: “The development would have a significant adverse impact on the northern part of Lauder Common by extending wind farm development down the northern slope of the hills in this area.

“The height of the proposed turbines would dominate the topography of Brotherstone Hill, diminishing its impact in the landscape. This effect would be most apparent from closer views, such as from Fala Moor, but would also be seen in more distant views from the north.

“The development would have a significant indirect adverse effect on the landscape character of the Midlothian plateau grassland. In particular, the turbines would visually dominate the large flat expanse of Fala Moor, substantially reducing its sense of seclusion, remoteness and relative wildness that are very important features of its landscape character.

“There would also be a significant adverse impact on the designation of Fala Moor as a special landscape area.

“In terms of its cumulative landscape impact, this would primarily be with the 78 existing turbines in and around Dun Law. From some closer viewpoints, the relatively close proximity of the proposed Gilston turbines to the west of the B6368 and the Dun Law extension turbines on the ridgeline on the east side of the Armet Water valley would create an impression where wind turbines would begin to appear as the dominant characteristic of this part of the landscape.

“By extending the range of wind turbines further west along the outer face of the Lammermuir and Moorfoot hills, the proposed development would have a significant and adverse cumulative landscape impact in addition to the existing group of turbines at Dun Law.

“Rather than being a coherent enlargement of an existing cluster, the development would represent an encroachment of turbines away from the higher hills and into a part of the hills that is of a transitional landscape character currently not directly affected by wind farms.

“The proposed wind farm would have a significant adverse visual impact.

“There would be an adverse cumulative visual impact over a much wider area because of the visual relationship between the Gilston wind farm and the existing turbines in the Dun Law group.

“The appellant believes that the landscape and visual impact of the Gilston wind farm is acceptable. I have arrived at a different conclusion.

“It would have an unacceptable landscape and visual impact, both alone and cumulatively. That impact cannot be effectively mitigated.”

The proposed Gilston Hill wind farm is the second to be rejected near Heriot this month following the thumbs-down given by Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee to Energiekontor UK’s bid to erect eight 130m-tall turbines alongside the A7 at Wull Muir.