Hopes that communities can have a greater say in major wind farm developments affecting their area have been lifted by a parliamentary committee’s response to a petition on the issue.
It asks the Scottish Government to look at ways of ensuring that “demonstration of local support is a key material consideration in the decision-making process”.
In March 2021, Scotland Against Spin lodged a petition seeking stronger powers for communities to influence planning decisions relating to onshore wind. The group has voiced concern over large-scale wind farms in Caithness and Sutherland.
Onshore developments above 50 megawatts are determined by the Scottish Government under Section 36 of the Electricity Act. Residents have been left feeling powerless when projects have been given the go-ahead by ministers despite local opposition.
A current example is the planned 19-turbine Golticlay wind farm near Lybster. Highland Council objected in September 2017, saying it would have “a significantly detrimental visual impact on the Caithness landscape”.
A public inquiry was held in October the following year and the application was granted in March 2021, having been dealt with under Section 36.
Now the developer, RWE Renewables UK Onshore Wind, is seeking to increase the maximum blade-tip height of the turbines from 130 to 200 metres.
One objector claimed last month: “There is no democracy in Scotland – it’s a dictatorship. Unless we’re in the central belt, we don’t count, basically.”
Scotland Against Spin wants English-style planning legislation to be adopted north of the border, saying: “In England, planning permission for a wind farm depends on a project being able to demonstrate local support, satisfactorily address any impacts identified by the community and make sure strong environmental protections remain so that valued landscapes are protected.”
The Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee considered the Scotland Against Spin petition in January and has now written to Scotland’s minister for public finance, planning and community wealth, Tom Arthur.
In the letter, committee chairman Jackson Carlaw, a former Scottish Conservative leader, calls for further research into how support could be provided for communities wishing to take part in public inquiries into planning decisions, particularly those relating to onshore wind.
He states: “The committee also recommends that the Scottish Government explore the scope for planning authorities to determine more applications for onshore wind farm developments. In determining applications for onshore wind farm developments, the committee further recommends that the Scottish Government explore opportunities to ensure that demonstration of local support is a key material consideration in the decision-making process.”
The committee has asked the minister to respond by April 17.
A spokesperson for Scotland Against Spin said: “We hope for a sensible response from the Scottish Government.”
In December, plans to dramatically expand Scotland’s onshore wind industry in the coming years were condemned by the group as “another example of suppression of rural voices” in areas such as Caithness and Sutherland.
Graham Lang, chairman of Scotland Against Spin, accused the Scottish Government of refusing to listen to the concerns of residents by pushing for “wall-to-wall wind farms”.
He was reacting to the announcement that Scotland’s onshore wind capacity will more than double by 2030 in a bid to further cut harmful emissions and support the energy sector’s net-zero process.
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