Scotland’s countryside will become a “wind farm landscape” as hundreds more turbines are built to meet the SNP’s radical green energy targets, the country’s most senior planning officials have warned.
In an extraordinary intervention, Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS) has told MSPs that 10 per cent of Ayrshire, for example, has already been made available for development to renewable power companies.
With “less sensitive sites” reaching saturation point, they predicted public opposition will increase as more planning applications are made to build wind farms on “familiar” and fragile landscapes.
“The cumulative effects of additional wind farms will change an otherwise unaltered local landscape into a ‘wind farm’ landscape,” they concluded.
In its submission to the Holyrood inquiry, Scottish National Heritage (SNH) warned the proposals cannot be achieved without “significant effect” on the country’s natural environment and protection for species like the golden eagle.
Should all the pending planning applications be approved, it said the effect would be to “considerably extend” the visibility of wind farms across Scotland’s countryside by narrowing the “gaps” between separate developments.
The analysis by SNH and senior council planners, who are responsible for handling the majority of applications, provides the most comprehensive insight yet into the impact of SNP’s plan for a green energy revolution.
They were published as it was confirmed Donald Trump will give evidence next month to the inquiry after promising to spend £10 million on campaign wind farms, which he said are destroying the landscape.
Alex Salmond has set a target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity requirements from renewable sources by the end of the decade.
Although there has been a rapid expansion in recent years – Fife Council has reported a 100-fold increase in renewable planning applications since 2004 – many rural communities are becoming increasing hostile to further development.
HoPS told the Scottish Parliament inquiry that growing opposition to wind farms “cannot be discounted simply in the national interest” of meeting the SNP targets.
“Large areas of Scotland are now subject to wind farm development visible from many vantage points over extensive distances,” the planning chiefs said in a written submission prior to giving oral evidence tomorrow (weds).
“As consented schemes are completed on less sensitive sites, it is clear that there will be an increasing scale of public concern being voiced as familiar and more sensitive landscapes may be altered by emerging development pressures.”
The planning chiefs said an increasing number of applications that appear on their desks are for “highly sensitive areas” or sites where there would be an “unacceptable” environmental impact.
Although some rural areas like national parks have extra protection from development, the planning chiefs said this does not apply to local beauty spots or “non-designated countryside”.
Single turbines or smaller clusters can cause “disproportionate” damage to the landscape compared to the power they generate, the officials warned.
However, local authorities are being “proactive” in finding local land on which wind farms can be built, with Ayrshire allocating the “equivalent to 10 per cent of the landward area.”
SNH, a quango that looks after Scotland’s natural environment, warned approving all the applications in the system would result in a “very significant change to both the diversity and distinctiveness of our landscapes.”
Although the SNP’s targets are technically feasible, its submission to the inquiry said approving all the current applications “would result in a reduction of some of the ‘gaps’ between current wind farm(s).”
“There can be no doubt that achieving 100 per cent will have some significant effects on our nature and landscapes,” it said, before recommending that further development is limited in some areas.
The quango warned councils are struggling to meet the demands placed on them by having to consider hundreds of extra renewable power applications and particularly their duty to draw up “spatial plans”.
These are supposed to be used to identify areas suitable for development, but SNH said there is “limited evidence” green energy companies refer to them before submitting a planning application.
It was confirmed yesterday that Mr Trump will give evidence to the inquiry, conducted by Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee, on April 25.
The US tycoon has been a vocal opponent of plans for a wind farm off the coast of this £750 million golf resort in Aberdeenshire and warned Mr Salmond he risks becoming known as “Mad Alex – the man who destroyed Scotland.”
A Scottish Executive spokesman said wind farms are only built where their impact is “acceptable” and unsuitable applications are rejected.