Selkirk youth to have their say in community wind farm referendum

AS the debate is played out nationally over whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence, Selkirk is raising the bar on youth enfranchisement.

For a postal ballot organised by the Selkirk Regeneration Company (SRC) on the best location for a community wind farm – potentially the first of its kind in the Borders – will offer a vote to every resident in the TD7 postcode area.

That area encompasses Selkirk as well as Ashkirk, Lindean, Midlem and both the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.

And the eligible electorate will include all young people of secondary school age, provided they were born before August 15, 2000. That means children as young as 11 will be able have their say on a choice of locations on Common Good land and the scale of the proposed development.

Voting forms (up to five per household) and a newsletter are due to be sent out next week and must be returned by Wednesday, March 14.

The public will be asked to choose from three options: a large-scale development of three giant turbines on the North Common at Sunderland Hope or two much smaller and cheaper projects on the South Common, just south-west of Gala Rig. It will be the second public vote on a community wind farm.

Back in 2009, in a ballot overseen by Scottish Borders Council and run by the SRC’s charitable predecessor the Selkirk Regeneration Group, a majority (328 to 262) voted in favour of investigating further plans to develop community-owned wind turbines to provide an income stream for the town over a 25-year lifespan, while helping meet national targets on renewable electricity generation.

With the receipt of a £140,000 loan in October last year, the SRC was charged to take the project to the planning application stage.

And the forthcoming consultation and vote is part of that process.

Asked why the vote should be open to secondary school children, Jenny Agate, SRC director, told us: “As someone who was involved with Rowland’s Dry Bar, I was struck by the level of interest, awareness and understanding by the young people about the environment.

“These 12-18-year-olds showed an awareness ... and it was obvious to me that the young people in Selkirk are concerned about their future, personally, communally and environmentally, and this is why we feel they should have a vote on the future of their town.”

Ahead of the March 14 deadline for voting, a series of consultation meetings have been arranged to explain details of the three potential developments.

These will take place from 6-8pm at the following venues: March 6 – Midlem Village Hall; March 7 – Ettrickbridge Village Hall; March 8 – Yarrowford Village Hall; March 9 – Ashkirk Village Hall.

Apart from learning about the options, the SRC wants to hear ideas on how the funds generated from the turbines could be best used for the benefit of the community.

In addition, a special information day will be held in the Victoria Halls, Selkirk, on Saturday, March 10, from 10am till 3pm. This event will cover more than the community wind farm proposal and will be attended by representatives of companies and organisations involved in renewable energy and other community projects.

There will also be talks and demonstrations on domestic energy efficiency and how to reduce bills, while refreshments will be provided by and for the benefit of Rowland’s Dry Bar.

“The plan is to develop the first turbines in the Borders which will be completely owned and run by the local community,” said an SRC spokesperson.