Rethink over Bonchester Bridge wind farm £3.25m funding kitty sparks anger among villagers
Late last year, it was thought agreement had been reached between the seven community councils in Teviot and Liddesdale that each would receive an equal share of a community benefit fund set up after approval was given for the 12-turbine Pines Burn wind farm on the Harwood Estate, near Bonchester Bridge.
That’s a fund believed to be worth up to £120,000 a year for the next 25 years.
However, some members of the new Hawick Community Council want to change the way that cash is distributed.
At a meeting of the council this week, its new joint vice-chairman, Graham Marshall, suggested that funds be allocated instead on the basis of each community’s population.
If implemented, that would mean that Hawick, with the largest population, would receive the lion’s share of the cash.
That move would have a particular impact on Hobirk Community Council.
As part of the original plan, it was earmarked to receive a double share of the funds because it is located closest to the forthcoming development.
At Monday’s meeting, anger at that suggested change of plan was expressed and demands made that the new community council abide by the original deal.
Mr Marshall defended his proposal, however, saying: “The suggestion made up until now is that the fund, which amounts to roughly £3.25m over its life, is split eight ways.
“This means that each person in Hawick over the life of the fund would get £35, whereas the smallest of the community councils would personally get £1,800, and that is considered to be fair. It’s not fair in my opinion.
“It is a complex issue, and I’m not patronising anyone in saying that.
“The suggestion that I’ve made is that we remit this to the chair and vice-chairs to negotiate with the other community councils and come up with an equitable solution.”
Council member Andy Maybury added: “When we talk about equal shares, that sounds all very equitable, but when equal shares is interpreted as the same amount of money for a population of 160 as a population of 11,000, it doesn’t seem so equal as the words might suggest.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall appealed to the community council to stick with its original allocation plan.
He said: “I would respectfully ask the community council to take consideration of the work that has been done before because all these community councils had got themselves together and sorted out a formula.
“I understand where Graham is coming from looking for per capita, but I was perfectly happy with the formula that was worked up.”
Upper Liddesdale and Hermitage Community Council member John Scott said: “One of the most important meetings I have attended was when Hobirk explained what the need was for the money that would eventually come to them from this particular project and they identified the remoteness, the rural disconnection and the issues of loneliness and mental health of farmers and a whole bunch of other factors which are very,very significant.
“My fear is that the position you are looking at may not be considering the difference that exists in the rural environment.
“Please do not disrespect some of the significant issues in the smaller communities.”
A spokesman for Hobirk Community Council said the village is “feeling under fire”.
He added: “We have already lost our school, our post office and even the traditional right to free burial in our local cemetery.
“We have few of the benefits of the larger communities in the Scottish Borders, such as local shops and local transport. We feel largely neglected and underrepresented.
“Our voice was drowned out over our concerns about this wind farm but we were in the front line in terms of visual and noise disturbance.
“However, we are where we are today and there is no going back. Our community will move forward and make the most of the challenges and opportunities we now face.
“On the downside, we face two years of serious disruption, and over the next 25 years many of the properties nearest the wind farm will devalue.
“We feel that the division of financial benefits should favour those closest to the development. It’s not an unreasonable request that we bid for more than any other community council.
“Our community in Hobkirk is in serious danger of dying on its feet. We need our six neighbours to rally to our support and agree that we should get a larger share of the subsidies.”
New Hawick Community Council chairwoman Gillian Morgan agreed to further talks with representatives of the other six community councils.
Leeds-based Energiekontor won approval on appeal for the Pines Burn wind farm last year.
The plans were first filed by the developer, part of a German-based company, in January 2017 but were thrown out by Scottish Borders Council’s planning and building standards committee.
Rejecting their officers’ advice, councillors concluded that the seven 149.9m-high turbines, plus five to stand at 130m, would have an adverse impact on the landscape, as well as on nearby historical sites, but that knockback was overturned by the Scottish Government’s planning and environment appeals division in January.
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