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Two-thirds of Scottish councils ‘don’t know wind farm numbers’

Two-thirds of Scottish councils cannot say for sure how many wind farms they have in their area despite them coming under unprecedented pressure to allow the construction of more, according to a survey published today.

Asked by the Conservatives how many turbines had been erected in their area, only 10 of 32 Scottish local authorities were able to provide a definite figure.

A further dozen were able to provide an estimate based on planning applications they have approved, while the Tories said the remaining 10 either had no record or failed to respond.

Murdo Fraser, a senior Conservative MSP, described the lack of information as “astonishing” and called for local authorities and SNP ministers to conduct a detailed audit.

It also emerged the Scottish Government has overturned another council decision to refuse planning consent for a wind farm despite local planners concluding it would have “a major adverse visual impact on the landscape”.

The 416ft-high turbines in the Falkirk area are expected to be visible from the Pentland, Ochil and Kilsyth hills, parts of Fife and the M8 motorway.

The decision is the latest example of the pressure being placed on the planning system as Alex Salmond strives to meet his target of generating the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

It emerged last month that an average of five planning applications per day for wind farms have been lodged with councils since the SNP came to power in May 2007.

The Daily Telegraph has also disclosed how Mr Salmond’s civil servants have written to officials in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders demanding they change planning guidelines to make it easier to build turbines.

Mr Fraser, who is convener of Holyrood’s energy committee, called for an audit, saying: “I find it astonishing that most councils can’t put a number on how many wind turbines are in the ground and working.

“How are we supposed to build a sensible picture, and keep the number of wind farms under control in the face of an SNP obsession, if we can’t say how many are up and running?”

According to the survey, the 10 councils who said they were able to give a precise figure said they had 750 turbines in their areas, while the 12 who provided estimates guessed they had 1,319.

Among those able to provide a definite figure were Argyll and Bute (261), Scottish Borders (232) and Stirling (121).

The local authorities who provided an estimate included Aberdeenshire (284), which unsuccessfully asked SNP ministers for a moratorium on wind farm applications. Perth and Kinross Council guessed it had 158 turbines and Moray 99.

Those with no record or who failed to respond included Highland, Western Isles, Dumfries and Galloway, East Ayrshire, East Renfrewshire and East Lothian councils.

A Scottish Government planning reporter overturned Falkirk Council’s decision to reject the wind farm near Stoneridge despite admitting noise levels would sometimes breach recommended levels, the Tories said.

The reporter noted the 13 turbines would be “a noticeable feature in a mainly pleasant varied and generally tranquil landscape” but claimed the council’s concern “do not justify refusal of the application”.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents councils, was unavailable for comment but the Scottish Government described the planning process as “inclusive and transparent.”

A spokesman said reporters uphold local authority decisions in two-thirds of cases and accurate and up-to-date information about wind farm planning applications is available on councils’ websites.