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The best deal offered to Scotland or just bribery? Two communities split by wind farm

This is a tale of two communities and a wind farm in West Lothian.

Main picture: Geraldine Hamilton at her home and, above, Stewart McKenna, Kirknewton Development Community Trust Photographs: Steve Cox
Main picture: Geraldine Hamilton at her home and, above, Stewart McKenna, Kirknewton Development Community Trust Photographs: Steve Cox

One, the village of Kirknewton, is mostly thrilled at the prospect of a new wind farm, which stands to deliver many millions - but which cannot be seen from there because it is five miles away. Then there is the other, the people living near to the site, Fauch Hill, along the road below it and in the nearby village of Tarbrax, some of whom may not only see the turbines, but hear them, and who are mostly not happy at all. A ballot has shown they are 95% against.

In Kirknewton's cosy Green Room, a newly-opened zero-energy community centre built by the Community Development Trust, there is a good feeling about the wind farm. People appear to like the sound of it and the money it could bring in - if it happens (final consent is yet to be given). A survey by Kirknewton Community Council found 62% in favour.

The story of this community deal with Louis Dreyfus, developer of Fauch Hill, starts long before the company started to look at the site - and it is the story of a development trust and the difference it can make. Its beginnings lie in a campaign a decade ago against a landfill site near the village. This crusade was waged, in part, by Stewart McKenna, a key figure in brokering the deal with Louis Dreyfus. McKenna, who is chair of the Kirknewton Community Development Trust says that back then he was a "thorn in the side" of Edinburgh City Council.

The result was that the community won £300,000, which was used to set up the development trust. When the trust asked the community what it wanted to do with the money, one suggestion was a renewables project. When the trust heard that Louis Dreyfus was investigating Fauch Hill, it set up a meeting. "The developers came in all smiles," McKenna says, "and saying we're offering £4000 per megawatt. We just said it's not good enough. We want a community ownership model and we want £5000 per megawatt."

Most of those I speak to in Kirknewton like the sound of the money and turbine. At Potter Around, a crafts business outside the village, Karen Murray says: "I have no problem with wind farms. I don't see it affecting my life other than in a good way."

But the feeling is different closer to the proposed wind farm, in the village of Tarbrax and in the homes along the "Lang Whang", the A70, just below the site. There they see only damage to their existence.

Geraldine Hamilton's husband farms at Crosswoodhill on some of the land that butts up against Fauch Hill and she has four self-catering properties on it. She feels devastated by what is about happen to her businesses and the "wild, desolate landscape" that captivated her when she came here in 1971.

''I just despair,'' says Hamilton. ''They didn't come to see us or any of the near neighbours until it was too late to alter anything. They didn't bother because they didn't want to come to talk to us. So they went off to all the local communities with what I perceive as bribes."

It is not that Hamilton and her neighbours will not receive some of the wind-farm benefit. They will - there is a Local Infrastructure Fund worth £330,000, which will help them with energy-efficiency projects and boost broadband. But for them, the costs outweigh these benefits. They seem sceptical, too, about what the local development trusts can deliver.

I met her and fellow opponent, Fred Parrish of Tarbrax, at the largest of her self-catering properties, a Grand Designs-style house, with glass walls. For her, this was a massive investment - £500,000 - and one that attracts people looking for peace and tranquillity. She believes, if the wind turbines go up, less than 1000 metres away from the house, it will be "a white elephant".

"I don't think anybody in here would have a wink of sleep. You're bound to hear the sound and it's a really nasty noise."

In Tarbrax, the feeling is almost entirely against the Fauch Hill wind farm. A ballot carried out by the community council found the population to be 95% against further wind-farm development. There is a history to this. Not long ago a wind farm was set up at a nearby site. The community council was convinced the developer had promised £54,000 per annum benefit to the community, but, it says, it has not materialised. Hence they are not believers.

"A lot of people feel like they've been let down badly in the past," says Iain Aitchison, chair of the community council. "People also think there are enough wind turbines here. We are almost surrounded. We feel targeted, and perhaps this is because we're on the corner between South Lanarkshire and West Lothian."

In Kirknewton, Stewart McKenna is aware there are some who are unhappy. "There's no doubt about it, there's a gradation of response," he says. "But we have to deal with the whole community. And the benefit deal that is on the table is the best that's in Scotland."

They also have no doubts that this developer will deliver. The deal is on paper. "We have, as a Community Development Trust, been engaged from the start," says McKenna. "We are the people to whom the pledge has been made."

There are winners and losers. The biggest winner, if this project happens, is still the energy company. But it looks like Kirknewton, may be a winner too, and West Calder and Harburn, which has set up its own development trust and stands to get some of the money. There are losers like Hamilton, too.

No amount of community benefit is likely to win their hearts.

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