Buccleuch wind farm ‘could unearth lead contamination’ from old mines

A plan by the Duke of Buccleuch to build a large wind farm in southwest Scotland is facing fierce opposition from local residents and politicians across the political divide.

Erecting 35 wind turbines on the hillsides between Sanquhar and Wanlockhead in Dumfries and Galloway will wreck the landscape, risk unearthing contamination from old lead mines and undermine plans for a community land buy-out, they say.

The accusations are denied by Buccleuch, which says it has reduced the visual impact of the wind farm and will avoid contaminated areas. The estate argues that its plans pre-date the community buy-out.

Buccleuch, Britain’s largest private landowner, has joined with a renewables company under the banner of the North Lowther Energy Initiative to apply for permission for a 151-megawatt wind farm. The application is currently being considered by the Scottish Government.

But leading SNP, Conservative and Labour MSPs have lodged forceful objections, as have community organisations in Wanlockhead and Leadhills and recreation groups. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has also objected because it’s worried that not enough has been done to prevent water contamination.

Joan McAlpine, the SNP MSP for South Scotland, said: “The proposal to locate so many turbines in this area will irreversibly destroy its unique character.”

Though she wanted wind farms in the right place, she shared community fears about contamination. “I am also concerned that this community’s wishes are being dismissed by a powerful landowner,” she added.

McAlpine argued that Buccleuch’s plan was at odds with community proposals to develop the land. “I would therefore be concerned that the wind farm development undermines the community’s plans to empower itself through acquisition of the land,” she said.

The Conservative MSP for Dumfriesshire, Oliver Mundell, claimed the wind farm had no local support. “The application is motivated solely by financial considerations on the part of the landowner and cannot be justified,” he said.

It would create “a metal cordon” around local villages which would be “completely engulfed”, he argued. The development could “destroy the local community” and leave Wanlockhead “a ghost town.”

Claudia Beamish, Labour MSP for South Scotland, stressed that she was supportive of renewable energy. But she agreed with local concerns about the “cumulative effect” of too many wind farms in the area.

Soil and ponds near Wanlockhead are known to be seriously contaminated with lead and other heavy metals from centuries of mine workings. Residents fear that erecting the turbines could result in pollution leaking into streams and rivers.

“I have concerns over the tremendous amount of lead-laced water that will be released into our waterways by the construction of this industrial wind park,” said one Wanlockhead resident, Catriona Blewer.

“And I have concerns over what this means for our village’s future. Why does a corporation get to make huge amounts of money by ruining our quality of life and our dreams?”

Another resident, Harry Pickburn, was also anxious about the upheaval during construction. “The disturbance of the pollutants within the ground is of great concern,” he said.

“The negative effect they would have on wildlife is also unacceptable. We are not in opposition to progress, and appreciate we need to change, but feel enough is enough.”

According to the Scottish Government watchdog, Sepa, there was a danger of “possible mobilisation of metal contaminants into the wider water environment”. The developer needed to do more work to properly assess the risks, it said.

“The proposal to carry out further investigation prior to operations is not adequate to address our concerns,” stated Sepa’s letter of objection. “We require further information at this stage to ensure that no significant impact to the water environment will occur.”

Among other objectors are the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society, Lowther Hills Ski Club, Leadhills Community Council and Wanlockhead Village Council. The windfarm was “unnecessary, unwelcome and inconsiderate towards the future aspirations of the affected communities,” said one member of the village council, Androulla Richford.

Buccleuch, however, argued that the development would bring major economic benefits to an area that badly needed it. “The project will also deliver substantial habitat restoration that will improve the environmental and conservation landscape,” said the estate’s chief executive, John Glen.

He said that there had been “positive feedback” from people in Sanquhar, Kirkconnel and Wanlockhead. The proposed wind farm was part of a major investment programme that would benefit the area “hugely”.

“The design of the wind farm has been adapted to reduce visual impact, including a reduction in visibility from Wanlockhead,” Glen said.

“We are currently liaising with Sepa on some technical issues they have raised and are confident of addressing them satisfactorily,” he added. “We have avoided areas identified as being at risk of contamination from old mine workings.”

Glen attacked McAlpine’s objection as “ill-informed and inaccurate”. It “betrays her willingness to put her anti-landowner agenda ahead of real benefit for people in the area,” he alleged.

“It is a pity she chooses to attempt to grab headlines rather than accept our many invitations to engage directly with us.”

Glen added: “Her suggestion that this proposal undermines a local community right to buy shows a lack of knowledge that the initiative was conceived and progressed before any suggestion of a community right to buy – which is still some way off from being applied for.”

The Scottish Government confirmed that the application was undergoing consultations. “We are unable to comment until the application process is completed and a decision has been made,” said a spokesperson.

A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 3 September 2017Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

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