November 22, 2012

Council being “bullied” over windfarms

Nov 22 2012 by Stuart Gillespie, Galloway News |

The Scottish Government has been accused of pressuring the council into opening up vast areas of the Stewartry to windfarm developers.

Officials at Holyrood want to see planning policies changed and large chunks of the region designated as being more suitable for turbines than they currently are.

But local MSP Alex Fergusson believes the move represents “unacceptable” levels of interference.

He said: “This is tantamount to bullying our local council into submission as it seeks to introduce a degree of control over the spread of on-shore windfarms that has been sadly lacking to date.”

But a spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “This is not the case.”

The News has obtained copies of e-mails and letters exchanged by senior planners at the Scottish Government and the council dating back more than three months. They relate to the council’s interim planning policy on windfarms being adopted into the new local development plan.

The Government is clearly keen that the council make changes.

Their communications maintain:

■ current policy is “too stringent and restrictive” – a claim the council says is “inaccurate” and that the areas the Scottish Government are concerned about are already the subject of windfarm planning applications;

■ areas currently marked as being of “limited potential” should be completely reversed to being of “greatest opportunity”, with issues relating to the impact on the landscape dealt with through other policies; and

■ providing details of how the region compares with other Scottish planning authorities in terms of approving renewables is unhelpful as it would “not be appropriate to convey a message that Dumfries and Galloway has ‘done its share’.

The Government goes on to offer to support the council’s new framework if the changes are made but they are likely to “make a representation” if their concerns aren’t dealt with.

A map showing areas of “limited potential” reveals huge tracts of the Glenkens to the east of Loch Ken would have “greatest opportunity” status under the Government’s suggestion along with large parts of the countryside near Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbright, Castle Douglas and the A75, as well as other areas of Dumfries and Galloway.

The correspondence was obtained through a Freedom of Information Request by pressure group Turbine Watch 312.

The organisation’s Keith Mycock said: “This would be a major change and would open up most of the lowland area of Dumfries and Galloway to large scale windfarm development. Not only would the landscape be at risk but once again communities and individuals would be faced with a deluge of speculative applications – just what the ‘spatial frameworks’ were intended to avoid.”

Dee councillor Colin Wyper is concerned that the Scottish Government’s approach could lead to less decisions being made by local people.

He said: “The people elect our councillors who in turn judge these planning applications on their merit, this process should not be overturned by an unelected official sitting in an Edinburgh office.

“I have emailed round various people in the council to see if they think, as I do, that the council should stand together with Borders, Fife and East Lothian and tell the Scottish Government that we have enough already.

“The aesthetics do not really bother me personally but I do really worry about the effects on our tourist trade as it is our last remaining big industry. I have had no response from anyone on this which obviously disappoints.”

And Local MP Russell Brown, who recently petitioned against the number of windfarms in the region, said: “The letter from the Scottish Government to the council warns that current approach will deter new wind developments and the Energy Minister has also told me he fears my petition will put companies off.

“Dumfries and Galloway is being asked to take far more than our fair share of wind turbines. Local people are sick to the back teeth of ministers in Edinburgh saying that they know best and running roughshod over local views.”

A council spokesman said: “The council’s position on wind energy will be contained in the new local development plan which will eventually replace the wind energy interim planning policy. This will be subject to public consultation early in the new year and will contain our proposed new policies relating to wind energy developments. A report on this is due to be considered at a forthcoming full council meeting.”

The Scottish Government spokesman added: “It is a legal requirement for local authorities to consult the Scottish Government on their emerging development plans, and the Scottish Government provides comments when consulted.”

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