It has been a turbulent feud over wind turbines, which has set the scion of one of Scotland’s most distinguished landowning families against the owner of a neighbouring country estate, the Edinburgh financier Peter de Vink.
Last night, it was Mr de Vink who was celebrating after winning a crucial victory in his bitter battle against plans for a wind farm that have been proposed on land owned by Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik.
It emerged yesterday that the planning application for the nine-turbine Mount Lothian wind farm submitted to Midlothian Council had been suddenly withdrawn by the energy developer the Wind Prospect Group and EDF Energy Renewables, in the face of fierce local opposition.
The energy company said the plan was shelved following a Ministry of Defence objection on the grounds that the turbines would affect low-flying military aircraft, and concerns by Scottish Natural Heritage that it would affect great crested newt populations nearby.
The company has indicated that it will do further work on the application and may resubmit its plan in the summer.
The decision to withdraw pleased Mr de Vink, an independent Midlothian councillor, who was aghast at the plans to build the 102-metre turbines about two miles from his 800- acre estate near the conservation village of Howgate.
A vociferous critic of what he terms “wind factories”, Mr de Vink was also furious at the role played by Sir Robert, whose family owns the Penicuik estate, where seven of the turbines were to be built.
Angered by the arrangement that sees landowners benefit from the vast sums paid in rent to them by renewable generators, in a scheme that is ultimately subsidised by hard-pressed consumers, Mr de Vink launched a series of attacks on Sir Robert, claiming he would “trouser millions” as a result of the development.
Mr de Vink’s campaign must have been quite unlike anything experienced before by the Clerk family, which has been associated with Penicuik House for centuries, played a prominent role in the Scottish Enlightenment and whose members have been enthusiastic patrons of the arts.
A cartoon lampooning Sir Robert was commissioned by Mr de Vink. The financier also doctored a famous Henry Raeburn portrait of Sir John and Lady Clerk of Penicuik, ancestors of the landowner, who he characterised as “Bob the Turbine Builder” in a hard-hitting anti-wind farm article on the Think Scotland website.
“None of this can happen without the agreement of the landlord,” Mr de Vink said yesterday.
“The landlord is everything. It is unacceptable that we, in Scotland, have this enormous fuel poverty and they [landlords]want to make as much money as they can. None of these windfarms would be built if it wasn’t for obscene amounts of money that is available. The whole thing is so unfair.”
He added: “Without Clerk, none of this would have happened – there would be no planning application. Think of all the money that he is costing all these local people, who have spent a vast sum of money to fight against this and cannot recoup their expenses. It is so immoral.”
Last night, Sir Robert was unavailable for comment. But he has told The Scotsman in the past that he is not interested in Mr de Vink’s “dirty tricks”.
Earlier this year, when asked if he was “trousering millions”, Sir Robert replied: “I wish I were.” Sir Robert also said he was “not interested in threats like that” when asked what he thought of Mr de Vink’s previously issued warning that he was prepared to sue the landowner for loss of value of his property.
Sir Robert said at least 25 per cent of the wind farm money would go into projects on his estate, from which the public would benefit “very substantially”, adding that a “great deal of money” would be going to the local community.
Mountaineering group objects to ‘blemish’ of projects on Highland beauty spot
Mountaineers opposed to two wind farms planned near a Highland beauty spot claim they would “blemish” part of the nation’s most important wild countryside.
Two separate applications for Glencassley and Sallachy, near Loch Shin and Ben Assynt, totalling 48 turbines at least 125 metres tall are to be debated by councillors next week.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has hit out after planning officials have recommended no objection be raised to the plans.
Chief officer David Gibson said that approving the projects, which also include 20 miles of access tracks, would be a “disaster” in an area with tourism businesses, and urged councillors to throw out the plans.
He said: “It will be truly shocking if Highland councillors vote in favour of wind farm proposals that would do such damage to the wild landscapes that make Assynt-Coigach so special.
“It would put councillors on the wrong side of the conservation debate, the wrong side of public opinion and would do a great wrong to the natural heritage they are supposed to protect.”
Oliver Patent, head of international development at WKN, behind the Sallachy project, said: “We are delighted that the application has met with the approval of the Highland Council planners and we hope this view is supported by Highland councillors.”
A spokesman for SSE, behind the Glencassley project, said: “The proposed wind farm at Glencassley has been carefully designed so that no turbines will impact the views of Ben More Assynt from local residences and tourist routes.”
He said the “best quality wild land” would not be affected.