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‘People are suffering needlessly’ – north-east residents join calls for onshore wind planning overhaul

An Aberdeenshire woman has spoken of the “considerable discomfort” she and her family endured due to the sound generated by nearby onshore wind turbines.

Rosemary Milne, who has three “industrially sized” turbines situated in “extreme proximity” to her home, said the noise nuisance has placed “extreme” stress on her family.

She added that the system for approving onshore wind farms means “people are suffering needlessly”.

Ms Milne shared her experiences as part of a submission to ministers in support of a petition, which is aiming to give the views of local communities more sway in the planning process.

Lodged by Aileen Jackson, on behalf of pressure group Scotland Against Spin (SAS), it’s calling for the Scottish Government to “adopt English planning legislation for the determination” of onshore wind farms.

The petition is also urging Holyrood to guarantee communities are given “sufficient professional help” to fight their corner and to appoint an “independent advocate” to ensure locals aren’t “bullied and intimidated” during enquiries.

Ms Jackson, who joined SAS after a nearby turbine left her unable to sleep for three years, said: “It’s got to the point where communities can’t fight these onshore wind farms any longer. It’s cost them so much money and they’re exhausted – they can’t keep it up.

“A lot of this is very complicated and people read the first paragraph of documents and they give up – they need expert help. It’s the same when they get to appeals; these people can’t compete with the big law firms – it’s impossible.”

In a submission from Caithness West Community Council, the organisation said the “biggest difficulty” it has is fielding the “sheer volume of applications” in the region.

It doesn’t have the financial muscle to “engage experts” to provide support in responding to applications.

As such, the group said the system is “very much weighted” in terms of developers.

John Edmondson, secretary for Ardross Community Council in the Highlands, also lamented the process, saying that locals voices are “ignored, belittled, and savaged”.

Meanwhile, Andrew Chatterton, who also made a submission in support of the petition, said, despite having a degree that is “heavily focussed” on company law, he found the planning system to be “hugely complex, difficult to follow and intimidating of itself”.

High profile figures to get behind the petition include Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader and an MSP for the Highlands and Islands, and Finlay Carson, Conservative MSP for Galloway & West Dumfries.

Ms Jackson, of East Renfrewshire, said: “If communities received professional help, that would make a huge difference.

“OK, we’re not going to go into an appeal or sale inquiry with a team of lawyers like the applicant is. But, the very fact that we could have somebody who could lead people through the inquiry process, make sure they write out coherent hearing statements and make sure they’re getting their submissions in in time, that would be a tremendous asset.

“In England, there’s two tests before you can put up a wind farm. The council themselves have got to approve it and local communities must have their concerns addressed. That’s the reason that onshore wind farm development in England practically ground to a halt and all the developers came up to Scotland, which has a very open door policy.”

In recent times, there have been numerous incidents of local groups across the north-east and Highlands opposing onshore wind developments.

Calls were recently made to limit the deployment of turbines around Loch Ness, while it was recently warned that Sutherland could become a “wall of turbines” if current trends continue.

Ms Jackson said she is an “anti-more wind farm campaigner”, pointing to the “overwhelming” number of applications piling up

She added: “We’ve got 1,700 turbines in the planning process at the moment. We’ve got 4,500 altogether in Scotland – that’s more than the rest of the UK put together. If all the proposed developments are approved, can you imagine what Scotland is going to look like? We just feel we’re at a tipping point.

“Now that the borders are under siege, it’s feasible that in the next few years, Scotland is going to be nothing but a field of wind farms, all joined up from the Highlands, to Aberdeenshire to Dumfries and Galloway.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are committed to providing clean, green energy from the right developments in the right place. Assessing the effect on landscape forms a key part of all wind farm applications, and is fully considered together with cultural heritage, economic and community effects.

“Our planning and consenting system ensures that local communities have their say and all applications for wind farm developments are subject to consultation with the public and statutory and local bodies, including community councils.

“We also ensure all relevant factors, including any impacts on local communities, are considered alongside advice from consultees throughout the planning consent process for wind farms, before any decisions are made. In addition, we encourage early and meaningful engagement by developers with any communities who would be affected by wind farm development proposals to allow for early design changes.”