Borders farmers have backed plans for a wind farm saying it’s the kind of project that should be embraced by a rural community that is suffering from a tough period in agriculture.
Farmers on the estates which would house and surround the site of the, 15 turbine Birneyknowe Wind Farm between Hawick and Bonchester Bridge, have backed the plans by wind energy firm Banks Renewables, saying it offers a revenue stream that would otherwise have to be found elsewhere through projects such as forestry.
The proposal, which has been submitted to The Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit and the Scottish Borders Council for their consideration, offers a list of benefits to the local economy and the community.
Now, local famers have publicly back the plans and urged fellow supporters to do the same.
Neil Hamilton’s family have run the estate where the wind farm would be located for 150 years. His land would house around half of the site while the other half would be on the farm owned by his brother Michael.
Neil said: “We are a rural community and farming is extremely important to our economy, but it’s an extremely tough time to be in farming at the moment and we’re all looking at ways to diversify or find another revenue stream.
“Some farms have gone down the forestry route, while others have just sold up entirely so the options are fairly limited.
“This wind farm offers that revenue stream, but also offers a large financial injection to the community, increased employment and contracts to local business - therefore it shouldn’t be turned down.”
Banks Renewables recently announced plans to improve access to jobs in the Hawick area, by providing local people and local firms with a new fund to boost training and workplace learning opportunities.
In addition to the creation of training opportunities the community fund which could generate up to £300,000-a-year for the local area could also deliver direct funding into community groups.
Neil added: “I’ve had a lot of conversations with the guys from Banks and they’ve been extremely thorough and professional. I like the professional way they go about their business and it’s good to see them engaging with the community with things like the rugby sponsorship (Hawick RFC) as it’s such an important part of life in the Borders.”
Recent changes in agricultural policy coupled with the strong pound have led to a downturn in the industry, which is being felt sharply in the region.
Donald Wilson, who has run one of the neighbouring farms for all of his working life also backed the wind farm plans.
He said: “The farms around the site will see a very small revenue boost if it is approved, but it’s not a large enough amount to sway opinion.
“The reason I’m backing it is the investment it could bring into the community. There’s not much money in the area and projects like this can make a big difference with local companies being contracted in to do the work.
“I’ve been quite impressed by Banks and like the apprenticeship scheme they have started up as increasing employment is so vital for the community.
“I’ve heard people shouting about the visual impact and the disruption in the area, but I think that’s being exaggerated and it has to be weighed up against the very obvious benefits.”
Across the fence in the next farm, Scott Bell, whose family have been there for four generations, said: “I would rather have a wind farm next door to me than a company drilling to produce energy or a forestry scheme.
“This could mean £300,000 for the local community as well as the other economic benefits so it’s been a bit frustrating to see negative publicity generated by a minority that don’t seem to give everyone’s views.
“The changes in policy have made farming extremely tough and I’m not sure everyone in the community understands that.”
He added: “There have been some pretty heated debates on this in the community, but thankfully guys who are arguing with each other are all smiles and friends again in the pub afterwards, which is important.”
John Douglas who also runs a farm in the area, said: “Banks have committed to more local employment, cheaper electricity for those living closest to the site, more investment in the local area and it’s renewable energy – so I don’t really understand how that can be argued against.”
In addition to providing green energy, the Hamilton based firm strives to provide communities that host its wind farms with benefits that will make a meaningful, positive and lasting difference to the lives of those living closest to the sites.
Colin Anderson, director at Banks Renewables, said: “It’s fantastic to hear this kind of feedback to such prominent people who have lived in the area for so long.
“We’d encourage others who are in favour of our proposals to make their voices heard to the councillors and planning officials who will make the decision on whether the wind farm is given the go-ahead.”
To find out more about the proposed Birneyknowe Wind Farm visit http://www.banksgroup.co.uk/birneyknowe/.