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‘Living in fairyland’ — Holyrood hears calls for windfarm firms to face steeper planning charges

A Perthshire councillor has called for a ”significant” increase in the cost of windfarm planning applications amid concerns about the impact on the public purse of the massive spike in numbers.

Scottish Conservative member Ann Cowan said local authorities are struggling to process the deluge of applications being submitted as developers aim to cash in on large subsidies.

She said the issue is more pressing because local authorities also face a significant bill if they reject an application which is subsequently overturned on appeal.

In recent times Perth and Kinross Council has turned down 17 applications, but all but one dismissal was subsequently overturned by the Scottish Government.

Ms Cowan, who represents the Strathearn ward, was speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday during an event organised by lobby group Communities Against Turbines.

A Scottish Government consultation on fees for planning applications, which closes on Friday, suggests the current application fee upper limit of £15,950 should be raised to £100,000 to make the planning process more affordable.

Ms Cowan spoke in support of the proposal, adding: ”Among several proposals for changes in the fee structure is one for a big increase for large-scale developments, notably for these enormous windfarms we are seeing in the countryside.

”At the moment it is an abomination that developers can wreck our countryside for such a small fee. At long last the Scottish Government has realised the enormous costs to councils of processing applications for large windfarms.

”There is currently a limit of £15,950 on any planning application and this is unrealistic for many types of large developments, but specifically for windfarms.

”Councils cannot charge more even if it is for a large number of wind turbines, enough to bring the developers and landowners profits of several million pounds over the next few years.

”On these occasions it may well cost the planning authority several times the amount of the fee. Additionally, when an application is turned down the developers usually appeal to Edinburgh.

”If they win their case at a subsequent inquiry, very often the council ends up footing the bill for that too. So that is costing the taxpayer a lot of money.

”Really these developers have been living in fairyland for several years.”

Ms Cowan also noted that fees of up to £250,000 can be charged in England, meaning Scotland would remain the cheaper alternative for developers.

”It is only fair that people should pay what it costs, especially if they are in line to make massive profits,” she added.

The call comes following a series of contentious windfarm applications across Tayside and Fife, including at Newburgh and Dodd Hill in the north-east of Angus.

The Scottish Parliament’s energy committee is investigating the SNP Government’s renewable energy targets and has heard much argument over the pros and cons of windfarms.

In its submission to the Holyrood inquiry, Head of Planning Scotland – the organisation that promotes planning at local and national levels – stressed that the financial resources available to local authorities are impacting on their ability to process applications.

The issue of renewable energy in Scotland attracted global attention in April when US billionaire Donald Trump gave evidence at Holyrood.

Wednesday’s Holyrood event included contributions from CATS members Susan Crosthwaite and Linda Holt and MSPs Liz Smith and Graeme Pearson.