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Wind farm developers using ‘tricks’ to make turbines look smaller

Wind farm developers make turbines look smaller than they actually are when applying for planning permission in order to “trick” councils into giving them the go-ahead, a leading architect has warned.

Alan MacDonald, an architect based in Inverness, says that computer-generated images of turbines in planning applications are often little more than “artifice”.

Small changes in the size of the photo, the angle at which it is taken, the zoom on the camera and how it is presented can all make turbines look smaller, he said.

His concerns have been accepted by Scottish National Heritage, which issues planning guidance on “wind farm visualisation” across the whole of the UK.

Brendan Turvey, policy and advice manager for renewables at SNH, said developers have “definitely” made turbines look smaller than they are.

He said one of the biggest problem is pictures of the landscape being taken at a distance and then shrunk to fit into a report so that the turbines also appear to be smaller.

SNH is currently consulting on new guidance that will ask wind farm developers to use a 75mm focal length and present the photograph on a much larger piece of paper.

Mr MacDonald said developers commonly use a wide-angle lens and zoom out because this gives a wider context of the landscape.

However the wider the angle and the further away the zoom, the smaller the objects in the picture will look.

In the most extreme cases a turbine can be made to look four times smaller than the reality, according to Mr MacDonald.

Expert analysis shows that a much more accurate picture of what people living by the wind turbine will see is using a single frame and 75mm focal length.

Mr MacDonald, a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said developers are misleading people by presenting photographs that do not accurately represent what the wind farm will look like.

“Local people are being misled about the potential visual impact of such large structures,” he said.

At the moment there are just over 3,000 wind turbines onshore and more than 500 offshore in the UK but the number on land could more than double while turbines offshore will increase by ten times in the next decade.

As well as the 3,358 onshore turbines already built around Britain, there are more than 3,000 consented and more than 2,000 in planning.

Many are stuck in planning because the protests of local people who believe the turbines will ruin the landscape.

The National Trust is fighting at least half a dozen applications for wind farms at the moment because of the feared impact on the countryside.

The University of Stirling also found photographs submitted as part of the planning process can be misleading.

The report said that the industry standard of using a 50mm lens does not represent the landscape accurately enough in a printed picture.

Renewable UK, that represents the wind industry, said developers are working closely with SNH and others to ensure wind farm visualisation is correct.