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Wind farm companies warn against wild land ban

Wind farm companies have warned Alex Salmond they must be allowed to build on wild land and near homes if his green energy targets are to be met.

Scottish Renewables, which represents the industry, delivered an outspoken attack on additional protections being proposed in response to a public outcry about the spread of turbines across the countryside.

Ministers are considering introducing special safeguards that would make it more difficult to build on wild land, which is defined as being rugged, remote and free from modern visible human structures.

They are also examining increasing the recommended distance between wind farms and the nearest town or village from 2km (1.2 miles) to 2.5km (1.6 miles) and giving greater protection to wildlife.

But Scottish Renewables said the proposed reforms to the planning process would jeopardise £2 billion of investment and Mr Salmond’s plan to generate the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from green sources by 2020.

They recommended that there be no blanket protection for wild land, with each wind farm application judged on a case-by-case basis, or areas near towns and villages.

The intervention marks a straining in relations between wind farm companies and the First Minister, who has championed the rapid increase in onshore turbines in the face of growing fury from rural communities.

A Daily Telegraph investigation last month disclosed how the Scottish Government has pressurised council planners across Scotland that they have set aside too little land for turbines.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “These proposals could block wind power in most of the country, with worrying consequences for the industry, for communities and landowners and for the Scottish economy …

“We believe that any potential impacts of wind farms on wild land and nearby towns and villages should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, not the ‘broad-brush’ approach being proposed by the government.”

But John Lamont, Scottish Tory Chief Whip, said: “It’s no surprise to see Scottish Renewables concerned at the prospect of the wind farm gravy train grinding to a halt.”

Wind farm companies delivered their warning in their submission to a Scottish Government consultation on proposed revisions to key national planning guidelines.

They complained that the area designated “wild land”, and therefore eligible for special protection, had been increased from 13 per cent to 20 per cent of Scotland’s land mass.

Instead they argued that wild land should be removed entirely from a special category of areas classified as having “potential constraints” for wind farm development.

Ministers should make clear that turbines can be erected if “there are shown to be no unacceptable impacts”, Scottish Renewables said.

The submission warned that councils hostile towards wind farms would exploit the 2.5km restriction because of the lack of a statutory definition of “town or village”.

This would enable them to ban development on a “large proportion of Scotland’s available land area”, the wind farm lobby said.

Scottish Renewables also complained about a presumption against wind farms likely to have an “adverse” effect on wildlife, arguing this “places potentially insurmountable restrictions” on erecting more turbines.

A Scottish Government spokesman said all views raised during the consultation would be considered, adding that ministers “strongly support” wind farms while working to protect the most environmentally significant areas.