Scottish councils are being forced to spend millions of pounds fighting wind farm developments on unsuitable sites, according to new figures obtained by the Daily Telegraph.
Officials at Perth and Kinross Council have calculated they have spent almost precisely a million pounds dealing with appeals from green energy companies that have had planning permission refused.
In all but a handful of cases, the original decision to block the application was upheld on appeal but the local authority’s legal and consultancy fees are borne by the public purse despite budgets being squeezed by spending cuts.
Fees paid by the developers are capped at £15,950, meaning any administrative costs above that amount are funded by the taxpayer. The public purse is also being forced to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal costs if developers win their appeal.
The figures are the first indication of the scale of the financial burden on Scottish councils of dealing with a torrent of wind farm applications, many of which are speculative, and the subsequent appeals.
Perth and Kinross Council’s problems are being replicated at rural local authorities across the country, some of whom have unsuccessfully pleaded with SNP ministers to announce a moratorium on new developments.
Alex Salmond’s targets for Scotland to generate the equivalent all its electricity from green sources by the end of the decade requires a rapid expansion in the number of onshore wind farms, with 1,800 applications last year alone.
The country’s most senior planning officials warned MSPs Scotland risks being turned into a “wind farm landscape” as applications are received for ever more sensitive sites.
Ann Cowan, a Tory councillor representing Strathearn, obtained the figures from the local authority’s officials. She said: “It’s putting a dreadful burden on councils not just financially but also the work by officials that goes into it.
“Councils are pretty pushed for money nowadays and to spend this amount of money trying to protect the countryside from predator development is terrible.
“It’s win-win for the applicants because they know it’s going to cost them next to nothing and if they get approval then they are quids in.”
The figures show the council has been forced to spend £998,450 dealing with appeals by green energy companies against 18 decisions to refuse planning permission, an average of £55,469 each.
In only three cases since 2004/05 have councillors rejected schemes against their planning officials’ advice, whereas in the remaining 15 they acted in accordance with recommendations that the plans be thrown out.
On appeal, the developers won planning approval for five of the 18 wind farms and were awarded £337,244 legal costs in respect of two that were originally refused by councillors against planning officials’ advice.
However, the remaining 13 planning applications were rejected again on appeal. According to the figures, these appeals cost the council a total of £375,661 in legal and consultancy fees.
Alex Rowley, the leader of Fife council, complained in June that many green energy companies were submitting “opportunistic” applications in areas that were not suitable.
Aberdeenshire Council has also called for a six – month halt after receiving 800 applications in 14 months. SNP ministers refused their request but recently announced they are considering increasing the fees that councils can charge.
Michael Rieley, policy officer at Scottish Renewables, which represents green energy firms, said they “recognise the limited resources available to local authorities and that is why we are engaging with the Scottish Government on the level of fees paid by developers.”
He said they are also helping develop new “best practice” guidelines for companies wanting to make new applications.
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