A BID to build a wind turbine on a farm northeast of Pencaitland has been rejected due to fears it would detract from views of Traprain Law.

Councillors at a meeting of East Lothian Council’s planning committee voted eight to six in favour of their officers’ recommendation to refuse the 34.4m-tall structure, with triple blades (diameter of 23.6m), proposed by Fredoch Ltd at Nisbet Farm.

The report by council planners stated that from the crossroads at Pencaitland, the whole blade diameter would likely be visible against the sky.

It said that visually the proposed turbine would compete with what could be seen in panoramic views to the northeast, and would draw focus away from Traprain Law.

Councillors upheld planners’ conclusions that due to the turbine’s positioning, form, height and scale, in views from the southwest it would appear “as a highly exposed and obtrusive skyline feature”.

The application was contrary to the East Lothian Local Plan 2008 and Scottish Government renewables advice.

One written objection had been received: that the turbine applied for was too large for the proposed site and that it was not associated with any farm building.

Speaking at the meeting, Sir Francis Ogilvy (pictured below), applicant and trustee of the nearby Winton Estate, said the recommendation for refusal rested solely on the expected impact on the view from the Pencaitland War Memorial, while five other viewpoints were apparently acceptable.

Referring to a recently replanted hedge and four standard oak trees, he said: “These will initially filter the view, along with the other features in the area, and ultimately will totally obscure the sight of the turbine.” He said that, in context, it would be a small wind turbine; that area guidance had scope for turbines 20m-42m high; and that it would be 13m lower than a 47m Stenton turbine two miles from Traprain Law – theirs, in contrast, would be 7.5 miles away.

He added: “I have a very great interest in the landscape – we hope to attract half a million pounds of investment to the estate from tourism next year and I would be very foolish, even just in a selfish economic way, to jeopardise this by siting a turbine in the wrong place.” In the last decade, estate income had more than doubled as tourism packages were developed, he said.

But including capital projects, Winton Estate had spent on average £300,000 more annually than it had been generating, thus separate farm income, investments and Mr Ogilvy’s own business funds had been drawn on.

Approximately £1.25m had been spent over the last 10 years on estate woodlands, including 12 miles of pathways; £5m invested in tourism; and two part-time staff had grown to 34 part/full time employees, plus seasonal workers.

Winton House, which operated commercially with the likes of weddings and conferences, cost £100,000-plus annually to run.

Winton House had a green tourism gold award and won last year’s best micro business title at the Vision in Business for the Environment of Scotland awards.

It was committed to encouraging diversity in all its products, said Mr Ogilvy. But farm income was likely to drop and it could not continue with this investment if it did not have the money.

Councillor John McMillan (Lab) had ‘called in’ the application so it would go before the committee so its wider impact on the rural economy could be explored.

He spoke of a recent site visit. As councillors had stood looking to Traprain Law, there was a thought that the proposed turbine would not appear incongruous or dominate the local landscape.

Separately, he had visited the war memorial at Pencaitland, and did not think the turbine would dominate views from there either.

He added that, with “sadness”, he would go against the planners’ recommendation and support the application.

Councillor David Berry (Ind) said he fully understood the applicant’s business dilemma in keeping the house going, and the whole operation there was an asset to the whole community and council area.

While he was not a sceptic – but substantially supportive – of wind turbines, in this case, he felt there were no “exceptional circumstances” to allow such a turbine at that location.

“We have to hold the line where we can,” he added.

Councillor Willie Innes (Lab), council leader, said that, looking at the balance between the benefits not to the National Grid but to the local economy, he believed the committee should approve the application.

There was only one reason for the planners’ recommendation, he said, which was subjective and which he did not agree with, while he thought there were “substantial economic benefits” in terms of the estate and the management of it.

But Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader on East Lothian Council, had no doubt that there was a visual impact issue, with the eye taken away from the natural landscape to the turbine, no matter how far away it was. A subjective assessment was what was being asked and, on balance, he felt officers had got it right regarding the visual impact issue.

He thought that the judgement had to be whether people believed that was acceptable or not, and on balance he did not think it was, and would thus support the recommendation to refuse the plans.

Councillor Norman Hampshire (Lab), convener, disagreed with the recommendation.

He said the turbine was more than two miles from the war memorial – the only viewpoint planners said did not meet the policy.

The actual impact it would have, according to the assessment, was on a landscape feature seven and a half miles away from the proposed turbine.

In Mr Hampshire’s opinion, he did not think it would have that impact on Traprain Law and the difficulty was, he said, if that was unacceptable, then no turbine anywhere in East Lothian would be acceptable.

But councillors voted narrowly to reject the plans.