Sutherland windfarm campaigner voices fears that changes to planning rules as a result of coronavirus may result in developments being pushed through without public scrutiny
The leader of a Sutherland windfarm campaign group has called for all such proposed developments to be shelved until the pandemic is over.
Ashley Smith, chairman of No Ring of Steel (NORoS) spoke out in the wake of temporary changes made by the Scottish Government to planning legislation.
Up until now, windfarm developers have been required to give presentations about their plans to the public or statutory bodies such as community councils.
But because of coronavirus, it has currently been deemed sufficient for developers to post their applications online along with accompanying documents.
The move is in a bid to ensure that planning applications progress despite Covoid-19.
NoROS was formed to oppose the construction of any further windfarms in the Rosehall areas.
There are currently two operational windfarms in the district- Achany with 19 turbines and Rosehall with another 19. Plans for an 18-turbine windfarm at Braemore have been approved and others are in the pipeline.
Mr Smith said that a large number of the area’s population would be unable to access windfarm development documents online either because ofa lack of technical knowledge, equipment and internet access or poor broadband speeds.
He said: “We think that it would have been more important to put a complete lockdown on any planning applications that werenot of an essential nature such as wind farms.
“Many local people are very worried about developments in their area which may affect them into the future.”
Responding to NORoS’s concerns, Highland Council said: “We do not have any scope to alter the requirements which are set and therefore we will be duty bound to accept major planning applications if consultation has taken part in the form of an online event.
“Howeverwe will not be in a position to determine any planning application for a wind farm until we can do a site visit – these visits are vital for us in order to make an assessment and at the moment site visits are not considered to be essential travel.
“Any application submitted in the next while will be on hold until a site visit can be done. If this coincides with a wider lifting of restrictions, then we will be requiring developers to make documents available for public inspection – this should theoretically mean most if not all proposals will need to display a paper copy and there will be additional time for public comments. You can request copies of the EIAR to be sent on a CD which can be viewed without downloading.”
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