A legal challenge is likely to be launched if Scottish Borders Council approves a contentious wind farm bid just outside Hawick.
Opposition to the development near historic Hermitage Castle in Liddesdale shows no sign of abating – despite the scale of the proposal being radically reduced.
Since November, when renewables giant Infinis submitted an amended application for nine turbines at Windy Edge, no fewer than 70 new objections have been lodged with the council. And the local planning authority has been accused of acting unlawfully in not demanding a new application because the revised one is so different from the original proposal – for 17 turbines – first submitted in June 2013.
That charge comes from lawyer Alastair McKie, a leading expert in planning inquiry advocacy, who is representing two of the most notable objectors to the development – Buccleuch Estates, whose vast Eskdale and Liddesdale lands include the castle, and the Hermitage Action Group.
In a letter stressing that both clients object “in the strongest terms”, Mr McKie claims the council, in allowing the revised application, is in breach of Scottish planning legislation. And he warns: “I specifically reserve my clients’ right to challenge any decision made by your council in its determination of the application.”
Mr McKie says the nine turbines would have an “unacceptable adverse impact” on the castle and its chapel – both A-listed buildings – and on nearby residential properties.
In response to more than 200 objections elicited by its original proposal, Infinis has removed an array of eight turbines closest to the castle on land at Sundhope. Meanwhile, the local authority rejects Mr McKie’s claim it has acted unlawfully.
Planning officer John Hiscox said: “We do not consider the variation [in the Infinis bid] is such that there is a substantial change in the description of the development. Therefore the authority has acted appropriately and lawfully.”
Mr Hiscox has also confirmed the Infinis 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 for Windy Edge. I apologise for this delay in processing your application.”