How Green Is My Valley?

Much of what a councillor does, while necessary, does not, in general, hold enough interest for me to blog about it. But, having spent today entirely bound up by an appeal over planning consent for a couple of wind turbines, I realise that we may be at the cusp of major conflict of desires between being green and protecting our precious landscape.

Scotland is often described as a small country but, seen in terms of population per square km, it’s actually big for the number of people. At 85 people per sq km, we’re comparable to much-larger Spain or Malaysia (England is four times as dense at 395). Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we have land to waste, which is especially true when we talk of our highly attractive fertile farmland, of which we have less than even England.

East Lothian is one of the few places to be productive like the wide fields of Lincolnshire but also retain photogenic qualities of rolling hills, cosy steadings and lush copses, framed by a blue line of hills or vistas of the Forth. Its council has fought vigorously against overdevelopment, especially in the countryside, which is largely unsullied, even by pylons and prominent microwave masts.

Despite this, East Lothian has, through its two power stations, been shouldering more than its share of generating electricity. You would think that providing over 50% already would make the county slow in taking up renewables but not a bit of it. With Aikengall and Crystal Rig, we are approaching a half a power station in wind renewables and are keen on Scottish & Southern’s proposal for a major wind farm 50 km offshore.

But, the well intentioned feed-in tariffs have meant that a number of landowners in the more sensitive parts of the county have hit on a few local turbines as a means to augment their farming and/or business income. This seems an entirely different matter.

Part of the beauty of East Lothian comes from being able to see prominent landmarks like Berwick Law, Traprain Law, Bass Rock, Hopeton Monument or the Balfour Monument from much of the county. That also means that other large structures would be equally visible. When small-scale generators (such as the one at Gullane Primary) were just that, there was little by way of a problem if numbers were kept modest.

But now pressure is rising to build 35 or 45-m-tall turbines in places like the Luggate valley and that is a different scale of things altogether. While Aikengall and Crystal Rig are visible if you really look for them, they are most visible from Fife (at over 20 km range) or close up below them around Oldhamstocks. Their impact on the “visual amenity” of 99% of East Lothian is minimal.

But now that large-ish turbines have appeared North of Alderston and East of Stenton, both are very visible from the roads around Garvald, let alone those more central. Today, there seemed a shared clarity among councillors who considered the appeal against refusal of two 34m turbines within 300m of the Balfour Monument that they would be altogether too intrusive and upheld the original decision to refuse.

This may get painted as hostility towards renewables by ELC but that is patently untrue. What it seems to be is a recognition that, important as wind renewables are in our energy future, they do not have any automatic right and priority, especially when it comes to preserving the superbly unspoiled countryside between Morham and Luggate for both our and posterity’s amenity.

East Lothian is already doing more than its share; if we need more wind turbines, why not put them where there’s plenty of wind—down by the Scottish Government building in Leith?—or along the dockside there, as they do in Zeebrugge and other ports?

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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