THE former manager of the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory (SDSO) has claimed he was forced to resign after being pressured by the landowner to publicly oppose wind farm developments.
The £600,000 observatory on the Craigengillan Estate in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, was opened by First Minister Alex Salmond in October 2012 with high hopes of attracting visitors to help regenerate the former mining community.
But since then the publicly funded observatory has seen turbulent times with two managers, its patron Professor John Brown, the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and four of five scientist trustees quitting.
Now Rob Ince, the former manager who resigned last December, has claimed he left because Craigengillan’s owner, Mark Gibson, used his position as member and former chair of the charitable trust running SDSO, to impose his views about wind farms on proposed developments in the area.
He said: “When I started the job in January 2013 I thought it was a dream come true. But after the first few months the wind farm issued emerged.
“Mark Gibson tried to get me to make statements and attend meetings claiming infrared lights on wind farm masts, in areas around but not on his land, would interfere with the observatory. He was saying ‘we can’t let them in’.
“I attended two meetings concerning the proposed Burnhead wind farm project. Prior to one, Mark was pressurising me to say the proposed wind turbines would have a greater effect than they would, such as their physical presence on the horizon.
“There was also the question of the proposed South Kyle wind farm. For that I created a Google Earth model showing the Trust it would have no impact on the observatory. Mark refused to accept this.”
Yesterday Gibson, who spoke about wind farms at the Scottish Parliament at the Trump Inquiry, denied pressurising Ince.
He said: “That is not the case at all. The decision to leave was his entirely and he was asked to think about it for a few days.
“We have a very clear policy on how to deal with any development which might affect the observatory. Each development is considered on merit with input from all the managers and trustees.
“But wind farms are a potential threat to the observatory. First of all they are huge. There would be a man-made structure protruding on the horizon. The sort of impact would be the physical disruption of the horizon which physically blocks parts of the day and night sky. There is also the question of lighting which can be visible or infrared.”
Prof Brown gave as one of his reasons for resigning in February “the collapse of my efforts to mediate in rows between Craigengillan and SDSO over issues including wind farm objections, manager accommodation and budget control”.
He said no use had ever been made of his offer of astronomy expertise.
Former trustee Colin Anderson, who was the architect for the observatory, said his main reasons for resigning were the wind farms issue and the lack of accommodation for Ince.