SNP ministers are pressurising Scottish councils to allow the construction of more wind farms even where the number of turbines risks reaching “saturation point”, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Scottish Borders Council is being asked to change a new blueprint for the area’s future development after government officials complained of the “negative language” about wind farms.
Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act show Anne Grove, a Scottish Government senior planner, attacked the local authority for suggesting “the Borders Council is at saturation point for wind farms.”
The council also acceded to another demand from SNP ministers to drop proposals for turbine “buffer zones” around castles, abbeys, stately homes and gardens.
This newspaper has learnt that the majority of Borders residents who responded to a public consultation were so tired of wind farms they have called for the introduction of an assumption against approving more turbines.
However, senior council officials admitted they were unlikely to adopt this proposal and warned that ministers could seize control of the blueprint if they think it is too obstructive to wind farms.
The disclosure of the correspondence came after a major conservation charity warned the “relentless” spread of turbines could seriously damage the tourism industry and cost every household £400 a year by 2020.
Scottish Borders Council is in the process of drawing up a new local development plan (LDP), which will decide which areas are appropriate for new housing, businesses and wind turbines.
One of the first stages was producing a document called a major issues report (MIR), which highlights the most prominent development pressures facing the region.
The council has already approved 71 applications for wind farms with more than 250 turbines.
But, in a letter to the local authority, Ms Grove said: “We are disappointed with the negative language used in the MIR around renewables and in particular onshore wind energy.
“We are concerned that authorities should also recognise the positive benefits of wind energy developments both to address climate change and for the local and Scottish economy.
“It is regrettable that the only alternative option suggested is a negative one stating that the Borders landscape is at saturation point for wind turbines.”
She suggested that Borders planning policies about wind farms do not meet the “spirit” of national guidelines because they add “extra layers of constraint”.
Scottish Government officials followed up the letter with a meeting with council officials, who continued to protest that their policies are compliant with SNP policy.
The local authority has agreed to commission further research on wind farms’ impact on the area and consider a written submission from ministers before drawing up a final version of the LDP next year.
Brian Frater, the council’s head of planning and regulatory services, rejected government’s claims its planning policy did not apply with national guidelines.
He said the local authority had gone further than required by outlining obstacles to building in specific areas but added: “Theoretically if we don’t produce a local development plan that ministers don’t feel complies with national guidance, they could call that in for their own decision.”
But Mr Frater said the “prominent response” to a public consultation on the issue was that all future planning applications for wind farms be rejected unless there are exceptional circumstances.
The correspondence also disclosed that SNP ministers had previously objected to draft planning guidance issued last year, which suggested buffer zones near major attractions like castles and abbeys.
It also proposed a presumption against building turbines within 2km (1.2 miles) of major tourist routes through the area. However, the Scottish Government warned its guidelines forbid “additional zones of protection”.
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