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William Moncrieff’s long struggle to transform his land into one of Scotland’s largest solar farms

Berry Hill Farm solar headlines
How we have covered the story since it first broke.

Plans to turn Berryhill Farm outside Dundee into one of Scotland’s biggest solar farms may be entering their endgame.

Officials have recommended Angus councillors approve the giant renewable array.

It is a project that was first mooted more than seven years ago and has since been stymied at least twice.

Farmer William Moncrieff’s initial work with solar developer Intelligent Alternatives never came to anything.

But his plans burst into public view in November 2018 when Angus Council received a “speculative” application for the 120 hectares of land to the south of Piperdam.

What happened to Fowlis farmer’s first real solar bid?

Mr Moncrieff began working with global solar power giant Lightsource BP on the 49.9MW proposal.

It was his first substantive go at transforming the Tayside farmland into the joint largest installation in Scotland.

But local councillors in Angus were quick to cast the shadow of doubt over the ambitious proposals, questioning the scale of the array and its location on productive farmland.

People attending the berryhill solar farm consultation.
Neil Lindsay, development director for Solar 2, shares the plans with the public.

It set the tone for a fractious few months as local people made their opinions well- known through a public consultation exercise.

Lightsource BP listened and they walked away.

Conor McGuigan, the company’s then business development director, said local people had provided “vital local knowledge” that led the company to the conclusion the site was no longer suitable.

But the energy executive left Angus with a parting shot — the company “wouldn’t rule out” further plans in the future, suggesting that for solar to work well in gloomy Scotland that large solar arrays were essential.

How and why did the Berryhill solar plans resurface?

Mr Moncrieff refused to be downhearted and in 2021 his plans for Berryhill Farm resurfaced.

He was now working with a new developer Solar 2 who fired the starting gun on the latest version of the plan in January of that year.

And while his plans hadn’t fundamentally changed, the context around renewable energy was shifting all the time.

The previous year the UK Government put solar back into the main subsidy scheme that supports renewable power.

Angus councillors also approved a 40MW installation near Montrose, also on farmland, in September 2020.

Mr Moncrieff argued the soil on his farmland wasn’t very productive.

He also said walkers, aiming for the nearby Blacklaw Hill, would still be welcome. That came after claims the wire fences around the panels would block the route.

How did local people react to resurfaced Berryhill plans?

But many in the community were not for turning. People power had defeated the first set of developed proposals. And as far as they were concerned, people power would win the day again.

Locals set up the Save and Protect Angus Rural Environment (Spare) group to fight the plan and made their voices heard through consultation events and written objections.

Which takes us back to Town and County Hall in Forfar – or at least its digital equivalent – where councillors will rule on the application on Tuesday, February 8.

Immediately ahead of the vote, Mr Moncrieff stressed experts had assessed the plans and judged them fit for approval and said he did not want to pre-judge the councillors’ decision

Next week could therefore bring approval, rejection or deferral.

But whatever happens, a community, developer and local landowner will be waiting with bated breath.