SNP ministers must set a quota for the total number of wind farms in Scotland to help councils decide how many more should get the green light, the country’s planning chiefs have said.
Heads of Planning Scotland have urged ministers to specify how many more turbines are needed to meet their targets
By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political Editor
Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS) said the Scottish Government’s new planning guidelines should for the first time specify the country’s “future turbine requirements”.
This would help local planning authorities decide whether applications for wind farms are “reasonable” taking into account how many more are needed to meet Scotland’s energy needs.
The proposal would effectively act as a limit on the total number of turbines amid widespread concern about their rapid spread across Scotland’s countryside.
Alex Salmond has set a target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 but has produced no calculations for the numbers of onshore wind farms required to meet this.
The Conservatives published figures last November showing that the target would be overshot by 20 per cent if all the wind farm applications then in the planning system were approved.
Although ministers have now promised to protect “wild land”, a series of rural local authorities yesterday said the definition of this is too narrow and excludes many of their areas of natural beauty.
Scottish Borders Council warned that turbines had got taller since existing planning policies were drawn up and “there is now a real prospect of wind-farm dominated landscapes being created over wide areas.”
The interventions were made in submissions to a Scottish Government consultation on new national planning guidelines, published yesterday, which will set out how planning authorities consider future wind farm applications.
HoPS, which represents council planning chiefs, has previously warned Scotland’s countryside is in danger of becoming a “wind farm landscape” as hundreds more turbines are erected to meet the SNP targets.
Its latest submission said it “strongly considers” that the new planning guidelines “should set out an understanding of future turbine requirements for Scotland”.
This would help planning authorities assess whether the “increased pressure” on areas deemed suitable for wind farm development is “reasonable”, the planning chiefs said.
North Ayrshire Council made the same argument in its submission, saying: “It would be useful for the Scottish Government to provide an indication of the potential number of new turbines required nationally in order to meet its published targets for renewable energy generation.”
South Ayrshire Council suggested each council should be given a quota so the SNP’s energy targets do not “overburden any authority area”.
Amid a growing public outcry about the spread of turbines, ministers are considering safeguards that would make it more difficult to build on 20 per cent of Scotland’s land mass deemed to be “wild land”.
They are also examining increasing the recommended distance between wind farms and the nearest town or village from 2km (1.2 miles) to 2.5km (1.6 miles) and giving greater protection to wildlife.
But a series of local authorities warned this would not prevent turbines being built on some of their most stunning beauty spots because they do not fit the official definition of “wild”.
Despite being popular tourist destinations, Dumfries and Galloway and Moray councils said they had no areas that met the definition of “wild land”.
Angus Council warned such areas are at risk of being “downgraded” in the planning system because they are not deemed worthy of specific protection, therefore becoming more vulnerable to wind farm companies.
West Lothian Council noted increasing public opposition to turbines and noted that two-thirds are built on environmentally-sensitive peat land.
“Wind farms, including the new roads and tracks needed to service them, damage or destroy peat and cause significant loss of carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change,” its submission stated.
Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority said the draft guidelines provide no protection for land on the “periphery” of the park despite strong demand from wind farm developers to build there.
Scottish Borders Council called for the 2.5km minimum distance to be increased in light of wind farm companies erecting taller turbines, which it said are now typically more than 120m (394ft) high.
But Scottish Renewables, the trade body representing wind farm companies, warned Mr Salmond they must be allowed to build on some wild land and closer to homes if his green energy targets are to be met.
A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers are carefully considering the many responses they have received and will table a new national planning framework at Holyrood in due course