REVISED plans for a wind farm near historic Hermitage Castle – reputed to be haunted by Mary Queen of Scots – have been besieged by opposition.
In the two months since the amended proposals were unveiled, no fewer than 70 objections have been submitted to Scottish Borders Council.
The level of dissent would suggest that a reduction in the number of turbines – from 17 to nine on exposed moorland near Newcastleton – has failed to assuage the development’s critics.
The 13th century castle, visited by Mary after a marathon horse ride to meet its keeper James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, is now run as a seasonal visitor attraction by Historic Scotland.
Buccleuch Estates, which owns the vast Eskdale and Liddesdale lands on which the A-listed castle and its chapel are situated, is among the objectors to the revised plans.
Back in June 2013, renewables giant Infinis sought planning consent for 17 turbines at Sundhope, near the castle, and at Braidlie on a site collectively known as Windy Edge.
That proposal attracted 230 objections, forcing Infinis to go back to the drawing board.
In November last year, the company abandoned the array of eight turbines closest to the castle and sought permission for the remaining nine towers at Braidlie.
By allowing a variation to the original plan rather than demanding a completely new application, SBC has been accused of acting unlawfully.
The charge comes from lawyer Alastair McKie, a leading planning advocate, who is representing both Buccleuch Estates and the Hermitage Action Group (HAG) which was set up to fight any wind farms in that unspoiled part of the Borders.
In a letter objecting “in the strongest terms”, Mr McKie said the council was in breach of Scottish planning legislation.
“My clients maintain that your council is acting outwith its statutory powers in this matter,” wrote Mr McKie. “I specifically reserve my client’s right to challenge any decision made by your council in determination of the application.” Mr McKie said the nine turbines, stretching 125 metres from base to blade tip, would have an “unacceptable adverse impact” on the castle, its chapel and on nearby residential properties.
However, the council has rejected his claim that it has acted unlawfully.
“In all the circumstances, we do not consider the variation [in the Infinis bid] is such that there is a substantial change in the description of the development,” said SBC planning officer John Hiscox. “Therefore the authority has acted appropriately and lawfully.” Mr Hiscox also confirmed the application will not be considered by the planning committee until June 1 this year.
In a letter to the company, he states: “Logistically it is very difficult for staff and committee members to assess more than one wind farm at any monthly meeting.
“I am aware this news will be frustrating to you, but unfortunately, due to the volume of [wind farm] applications, this is the earliest slot available for Windy Edge.”