The company behind a bid to build a community wind turbine for Dunbar has appealed a local decision to reject it – sparking a war of wards between it and East Lothian Council’s deputy leader.
Dunbar Community Energy Company (DCEco) had applied to erect a 56.3-metre-high turbine on Blackcastle Hill, south of Innerwick, about 200 metres south-west of the hill’s existing telecommunications masts.
DCEco – a trading subsidiary of charity Sustaining Dunbar – says that selling energy from the turbine could generate up to £200,000 per year for 20 years, with local projects able to apply for grants from the fund created.
But in May, East Lothian councillors unanimously rejected the bid – with Dunbar ward member and depute council leader Michael Veitch (Conservative) asking that the developer take note of local views and not seek to take the application any further.
This week, after learning of DCEco’s appeal to the Scottish Government, he said: “I am genuinely saddened by this news.
“While we might expect a commercial developer from outside the county to launch such an appeal, it’s hugely disappointing that a local community organisation has decided to do so. This wind turbine was opposed by both the local community council and East Lothian Council’s planning committee, so it’s hard to view this decision as anything other than deeply undemocratic.
“I am now genuinely worried that a Scottish Government reporter will overturn the council’s decision and thereby spoil this beautiful hillside.”
However, Iain Waugh, of DCEco, said: “We are disappointed that the planning committee rejected our application for a 100 per cent community-owned wind turbine to sit behind the two masts already on Blackcastle Hill.
“All of the profits from the turbine will be democratically controlled and used to fund local projects designed to make the area more sustainable and help challenge the hardships people are increasingly facing in times of public spending cuts.
“We are bemused by the accusation from Councillor Veitch that our use of the planning process is ‘undemocratic’. Our survey showed a majority supported this turbine and neither Historic Scotland nor Scottish Natural Heritage objected.
“Perhaps Councillor Veitch believes the planning process is only democratic up until the point he loses control over it or disagrees with decisions made?
“We shall continue to follow the planning process to its end point which leaves the Scottish Government as the ultimate arbiter. If the councillor has a problem with that he should perhaps seek to amend any proposer’s right to appeal as enshrined in Scottish planning policy and not seek to limit this right only when it suits his own interest.”
Councillor Paul McLennan (SNP), Dunbar ward, supported the original application.
He said: “As I stated at the planning committee I am aware of the visual impacts, but feel that the community benefits proposed outweigh this.
“There would be regular income for the community and also opportunities to target fuel poverty in the ward area – this for me is the most important factor – and I sure will be to the majority of people in the ward.I hope the Scottish Government reporter will take this into consideration in their assessment of the case.”
An appeal document lodged by DCEco with the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals says that the council’s Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) concluded that there would “not be a significant or unacceptable impact on the landscape character of the immediate Eastern Lammermuir Fringe landscape character type or surrounding landscape areas” were a turbine to be built here.
The company also argues that a significant effect would only be experienced within a “very small part” of the Lammermuir Hills Area of Great Landscape Value; and that the assessment of the application by council officers – who recommended refusal – “did not fully consider a number of important factors that are required as part of a LVIA”.
The extent of the impact on Oldhamstocks Conservation Area had been “overstated within the officer’s report and reasons for refusal” and the appeal also argues that “significant community benefits” would come from the project.