Yesterday the Scottish Government put out a highly misleading press release which implied it was the first announcement of a new tranche of money to help local councils cope with the deluge of planning applications for turbines which many are struggling under.
In fact this is not new money – it was announced in June in a letter from Fergus Ewing and Derek Mackay to all local councils encouraging them to use it to specify more areas for wind development (‘spatial frameworks”) so it would be easier for developers to find suitable sites.
Unfortunately, the BBC, STV, the Sunday Herald and Tory energy spokesman Mary Scanlon all fell for the line and did not recognise that the announcement was being recycled – no doubt putting out the press release at the weekend was deliberate as scrutiny might be less thorough. Announcing the same tranche of money several times was a spin tactic developed by the Blair government and now rife in Westminster. It is designed to give the impression that government is recognising and addressing a particular need considerably more than it in fact is.
Local councils in Scotland won’t be impressed. As it is, the amount of money each hard-pressed council can apply for is nugatory (they can bid for a share of £ 280k not to exceed £75k) and will make little difference to the crippling workloads and stretched budgets of those departments dealing with applications from wind energy hotspots – such as Aberdeenshire, Fife, Dumfriesshire and the Highlands.
In fact since the initial announcement in June, the situation across Scotland has worsened, with ever more applications for single turbines and wind farms flooding in, and applicants for large and small developments appealing to the Scottish Government, if they receive a refusal from the local Council, or even if the Council does not determine the application in the allotted timespan.
Running to appeal like there is no tomorrow reflects the anxiety of wind developers to secure lucrative contracts for subsidies before the Westminster government brings in the inevitable cuts to wind subsidy. Appealing is now an automatic reflex for wind speculators – which of course drags out the process and expense for the already hard-pressed councils. In the majority of appeals, the Council also bears the appellant’s costs.
Repeating this announcement of extra government funding for planning authorities will not alleviate the pressure on local authorities from voracious wind developers but intensify it. It’s a nod to the wind lobby which has been bending Ministers’ ears about the “inefficiency” and “tardiness” of local planning authorities, a sop to SNP MSPs in wind hotspots who have been pleading their local council’s case to Ministers, and a crumb for those Councils like Fife and Aberdeenshire who have asked for a moratorium because they can’t cope. As ineffective as the money will be, it nevertheless sends out a clear message that the SG is not listening to local authorities or local communities and that it will do whatever it can to make sure the feeding frenzy among wind speculators continues unabated.
ONSHORE WIND – ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR PLANNING AUTHORITIES
1.Scottish Ministers announced on 19 June 2012 that £0.3 million was to be made available to assist planning authorities in processing the current high volume of wind turbine applications. A copy of that announcement is available from the Scottish Government’s website: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/planning/National-Planning-Policy/themes/renewables/onshorewind. 2.I am pleased to inform you that following engagement with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS), it has been decided that £280,000 be made available to planning authorities, either individually or in groups, via a bidding process. 3.The remaining £20,000 will be used by the Scottish Government to determine what actions taken as a result of the additional funds being provided have most assisted decision making and the determination of planning applications. That information will be published as a resource for planning authorities in the long term. 4.In their 19 June letter, Scottish Ministers recognised that applications for wind turbines are often complex in nature and the resources planning authorities require to deploy to respond to Section 36 and 37 applications under the Electricity Act are considerable. Scottish Ministers recognise that a particular strain is placed on those authorities dealing with a large number of applications and are clear that the money should be focused on those authorities where the need is greatest. 5.Planning authorities are asked to submit bids for part of the £280,000 by 19 October 2012. As a guide, bids should not exceed £75,000. It is expected that many bids will be for sums less than that. 6.Bids should be submitted using the Bid Form. The Scottish Government will seek further information from bidders if required. Only one bid should be submitted by each planning authority or group of authorities. However, planning authorities may make their own bid and also be included in a separate bid by a group of authorities (although each bid should consider different problems). 7.Two key tests will be applied in considering whether to award funds:
will the proposal assist with determining planning applications for wind turbine developments?;
has the authority provided convincing evidence that it is amongst those with the greatest need?
8.Bids will be made public, as will Scottish Ministers’ analysis of bids. The funds are available for the remainder of this financial year and will be distributed through the Local Government Settlement. Please direct any questions to me, using the contact details provided in this letter.
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