A North publisher has accused the Scottish Government of having a “complete disregard for democracy” over its handling of wind farm applications.
Dr Keith Whittles claimed the government should not have the power to give the go-ahead to windfarm applications which have not been supported by local authorities.
He is also critical of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) over its guidelines for windfarm visualisations – a digital or photographic means of predicting the scale and impact of windfarms.
Developers are required to follow the SNH visualisation guidelines when submitting planning applications.
However, Dr Whittles believes the quango’s chosen method is flawed because it was formulated by consultants who derive their main income from windfarm developers.
The visualisation issue is important because turbines can be photographed to look smaller than they will be in reality.
Dr Whittles, who runs Dunbeath-based firm Whittles Publishing, which publishes technical books, decided to speak out after reading the
Active Outdoors article in last week’s Northern Times concerning the planned West Garty Windfarm in East Sutherland.
An application for consent for the 18-turbine, 54mw windfarm has been lodged with the Scottish Government’s consents unit.
Under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989, all wind farms over 50mw in size are determined by the government, although local authorities also hear and decide whether to support or object to applications.
The West Garty proposal is facing considerable opposition locally and has attracted 358 comments on the local authority’s eplanning portal.
Dr Whittles said: “The north of Scotland and Caithness in particular is being blanketed in these farms which have a contribution to make but not to the degree the Scottish Government is inflicting on the area.”
He added: “Highland Council may make a perfectly democratic decision to refuse a windfarm yet the Scottish government overrules it, which to my way of thinking is a complete denial of democracy.
“The Scottish Government is very high and mighty and if they get a bee in their bonnet, they will just go ahead and do things without caring about anyone else’s view. I don’t think that is acceptable behaviour.”
Regarding wind farm visualisations, Dr Whittles explained: “Although developers claim they are taken with a 50mm camera lens, the images are joined together horizontally so the viewer is not looking at a 50mm image, they are looking at an image which has a field of view of a wide-angle lens which makes the turbines look smaller and much further away.
One of Dr Whittles’ authors, Alan Macdonald, has written a book, “Windfarm Visualisation Perspective or Perception,” about the issue.
Mr Macdonald runs Architech Animation Studios in Inverness which produces photomontage visualisations for planning.
Working with Highland Council, which has more experience in windfarm applications than any other local authority in the UK, they developed new standards for windfarm visualisations.
The resultant “Visualisation Standards for Wind Energy Developments” was published by the authority in 2010 and has since been updated twice.
However, SNH is still sticking to its own guidelines which, according to Dr Whittles and Mr Macdonald, have no scientific or technical credibility.
Dr Whittles said: “Highland Council is resolute in adopting the correct method for wind farm visualisations; a method being followed by several councils and consultees across the UK.
“That method was developed with our author Alan Macdonald and is proven and scientifically correct.
“Yet SNH uses guidelines that in effect have been produced and promulgated by the self same people who are paid to act as consultants on windfarm projects.
“It’s an absolute disgrace. I don’t really expect any better from our politicians, but the population at large doesn’t know about it and this is an issue which remains hidden but is costing the country dear.”
An SNH spokesman told the Northern Times yesterday: “Our guidance, which was updated in July 2014, is supported by the Scottish Government, the Landscape Institute, Scottish Renewables, and Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS).
“The new methodology is based on over two years of rigorous testing and a detailed public consultation exercise. It draws on extensive testing
by The Highland Council and the findings of research by the University of Stirling.
“The guidelines standardise photographic requirements.
“This gives better representations of proposed wind farms and specifies larger images which are easier for the public and decision makers to use.
“It requires developers to provide a viewpoint pack for members of the public and decision makers to use on site; the production of images with an equivalent focal length of 75mm, increased from 50mm; recommends new digital methods to make it easier for the public to view images online, and includes a method to verify images have been presented correctly,
helping to increase public confidence in the images.”
l Plans for a 20-turbine windfarm in Assynt have roused the wrath of mountaineers.
Muirhall Energy has applied for consent to build the windfarm at Caplich, three miles north of Oykel Bridge.
The turbines would be more than 430ft high.
David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS) has said the development will turn the Coigach-Assynt Scenic Area into a “very ordinary non-scenic area.”
He said: “The vast and open views to and from Sutherland’s mountains are recognised internationally as some of Scotland’s finest.
“These views have already been diminished by windfarms in the Lairg area – five to six miles to the east of this proposed development.
“We believe that this fabulous landscape is now too precious to be turned into something very ordinary by this development.”
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