The Scottish Government has been accused of “sending an open invitation” to wind farm companies to descend on Scotland, after ordering councils to identify more land where turbines can be located.
In a letter from two government ministers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been asked to earmark more land for the controversial developments, as the SNP attempts to meet its 100 per cent renewable energy target.
That has triggered outrage from anti-wind-farm campaigners, who accused the government of caving in to renewable energy developers.
The move, to be formally announced shortly, comes at a time when councils are being flooded with applications for wind farms, which protesters believe will destroy the landscape.
Energy minister Fergus Ewing and local government minister Derek MacKay say in the letter that areas of land identified as suitable for wind farms should now be included in councils’ development plans.
They talk of improving the coverage of onshore wind farms’ “spatial frameworks” – landscape studies that find the most appropriate locations for wind turbines.
That process leads to the creation of “preferred search areas”, which are parcels of land a council pinpoints as being suitable for wind-farm development.
The letter says: “As you will know, the Scottish Government is strongly committed to renewable energy. We have a target that renewables could provide the equivalent of 100 per cent of our demand for electricity by 2020 – and there is no question that onshore wind developments will continue to play a vital role in achieving that goal.
“One obvious area is to improve the coverage and quality of spatial frameworks for onshore wind farms in development plans; coverage currently being incomplete and in some cases inconsistent with Scottish Planning Policy, out of date or unadopted.”
It adds: “The clear identification of areas of search for wind farms is in everyone’s interest – planning authorities, developers and the wider public. For that reason, the Scottish Government will in future require spatial frameworks to form part of the Development Plan as required by Scottish Planning Policy, rather than in interim supplementary guidance.”
The letter discloses that the government plans to provide about £300,000 to help council planning departments cope with the deluge of wind-farm applications.
Scottish Conservative energy spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: “This is sending out an open invitation to wind-farm companies across the world to submit their applications in Scotland, and that is something that will worry many local communities. All over the country, groups have been established to fight these developments, showing the acute concern felt by so many people.”
She went on: “Council planning departments are already under severe pressure to deal with these applications, and even the councils who do have preferred areas of development are receiving speculative applications en masse for places they have stated are not suitable.
“Releasing £300,000 may help some departments, but it won’t be enough, given the sheer volume of applications. The SNP is fuelling this rise, and ordering councils across Scotland to get on-message with them will do nothing to help that situation.”
Her views were shared by anti-wind-farm pressure group Communities Against Turbines Scotland. Susan Crosthwaite, who chairs the group, said: “Once again, the Scottish Government is caving in to pressure from wind moguls who cannot put up enough turbines in Scotland.They want Holyrood to bully councils who stand up to them.
“Already we effectively have a Martini policy for turbines – anywhere, any time, any place. Because, whether spatial guidance exists or not, the law says each site has to be judged on its own merits.
“Now councils which have already produced spatial guidance at great cost will lose out financially to those who haven’t. What we need is legally enforceable no-go areas for turbines and a mandatory two kilometre setback from human dwellings. The Scottish Government should be protecting people and landscapes, not telling councils to feed them to the wolves.”
Two Scottish councils have already called for a six-month moratorium on wind-farm applications in response to the number of “inappropriate” bids.
Fife made its call earlier this week, following the example of Aberdeenshire, which received 800 applications in 14 months.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In a plan-led system, it’s not unreasonable to expect councils to have a plan which gives direction on the appropriate siting of wind farms.
“Planning authorities and, where appropriate, the Scottish Government, will only allow renewables developments to be built where the impacts have been found to be acceptable. Each case is assessed on its merits and unsuitable applications are rejected.”
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