Campaigners behind a heavily supported petition on wind turbines have accused the Scottish Government of failing to protect the area in new guidelines.
New national planning framework proposals outline 43 areas across Scotland that should be shielded from wind turbine developments, with nowhere in Aberdeenshire or Moray included.
Paul Scrivin and Jim Bayne, who were part of a delegation which presented the petition with 1,740 signatures to Aberdeenshire Council calling for a minimum distance to be defined between a turbine development and the nearest home, are concerned the area is not included.
Mr Scrivin told the Banffshire Journal: “The proposals are notable for their absence of any reference to individuals or the rural community. These are the people who are most affected by the turbines.
“The purpose of our petition was to protect them from having a turbine virtually on their doorstep by seeking a reasonable minimum distance between any turbine and the nearest dwelling.
“What we need are strict rules on the minimum distance from dwellings to protect the health and wellbeing of residents.
“The latest draft proposals are no more than smoke and mirrors. Most of the proposed protected areas such as the national parks are already protected.”
Scottish National Heritage (SNH) has published a new map showing the main areas of wild land in Scotland which should be protected. The majority are in the Highlands and Islands, including Torridon, the Monadhliath Mountains, Cape Wrath and the Cuillins. The designations total approximately 20 per cent of Scotland’s land mass.
“Wild land is an incredibly valuable asset for Scotland, making an important contribution to our tourism industry because images of wild places also help support Scotland’s worldwide reputation as a beautiful and impressive country,” said Andrew Bachell, SNH director of operations.
“Our new map will enable planners and developers to take account of wild land, particularly in planning future wind farm and any other large scale developments.”
Mr Bayne’s concerns included that the message the map gave to wind turbine developers was that Aberdeenshire and Moray were open season for them.
He added: “The fact that there are no protected areas in Aberdeenshire indicates that the Scottish Government either thinks there are no places in Aberdeenshire worth protecting; it does not understand or care about the impact of close turbines on individuals and rural communities; or they think that with having so many SNP politicians and councillors in Aberdeenshire they can do what they like here.
“Inevitably, the government will commission a poll to show that most people support its proposals.
“However, as the critical densities are in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, you don’t need an expensive poll to tell you the answer. Perhaps the question should be: ‘Would you like a turbine at the bottom of your garden?’”
Industry body Scottish Renewables has dismissed claims that it would lead to “open season” and said there were other protection measures in place to guard against the unsuitable siting of turbines
Jenny Hogan, the organisation’s director of policy, said: “The map produced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) focuses on wild land only and does not highlight the many other constraints put on development, such as environment, designations, aviation and sensitive peatlands.
“Decisions over where a wind farm can or can’t be built are for the planning authorities, not the renewable energy industry, and only well-designed, well-sited projects will receive consent.”
Councillor Peter Argyle, chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee, said there was effectively no wild land in the region in the context set out by SNH.
He explained the council has undertaken a similar piece of work with SNH to assess whether areas could accommodate more wind turbines.
“SNH will be reporting very soon on this and the outcome of their work will form part of the main issues report on our next local development plan.”
Moray Council planning convener Douglas Ross said the local authority was “not too concerned” the region had not been included in the maps. He added the council had been doing landscape capacity studies to highlight appropriate and inappropriate sites.
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