The new SNP-led administration at Holyrood is to investigate Scottish Natural Heritage for recruiting developers to help shape the future planning process for windfarm applications.
Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber MSP Fergus Ewing is angry at the agency’s refusal to admit collusion, revealed by the Press and Journal last month, despite pressing the point as part of his submission of a series of questions to SNH under freedom of information legislation.
His concerns centre on the agency’s commissioning of the main windfarm developers’ organisation, the Scottish Renewables forum to help devise a reliable method of photomontage to accurately illustrate the impact of proposed turbines on landscapes in future planning applications.
The commission, which culminated in the publication of a 200-page report which was never advertised, was financed jointly by SNH and the forum.
The dossier – Visual representation of windfarms, Good Practice Guide – was published a year ago without fanfare, cost taxpayers £28,916 and failed to provide a definitive methodology.
SNH chairman Andrew Thin has sidestepped Mr Ewing’s question, which was “Is this not a conflict of interest between the role of SNH – which is supposed to be impartial – and the Scottish Renewables forum, which is for windfarms?”
The MSP said yesterday: “I will be taking this matter up with my colleague Richard Lochhead, the minister for rural affairs. I shall also be pursuing with him the wider issue of how, in applications for windfarms, turbines are depicted and why SNH have failed to recommend that there should be one agreed method of preparing the photomontage used.”
A spokesman for the agency said: “SNH has used effective collaboration to develop guidance in the visual representation of windfarms in environmental statements. This is practical and effective from the point of view of those having to prepare such material.
“These include developers and their consultants and consent authorities and the public. We believe that the guidance has benefited from that input and will come to be widely used as a basis for good practice.”
Inverness architect Alan Macdonald, who has long called for a fair method of visualising planned windfarms, said yesterday that last month’s P &J story had triggered a huge response to a special website – www.thevisualissue.com – he had created to explain the science.
“The feedback has been tremendous, with responses from as far as the US and New Zealand. Apart from the major issue of misleading visuals, there is also a widespread dissatisfaction about the environmental assessments themselves.”
22 May 2007
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