Highlands Council is facing criticism after it emerged that the local authority has had to spend more on legal battles over controversial windfarm applications than it received in fees collected from developers.
Councillor Matthew Reiss said the local authority had processed 306 planning applications in the past three years, bringing in £295,013 in fees. But the cost of fighting appeals on just 23 appeals lodged by developers after their bid were refused has currently cost £288,000, not including staff time.
Reiss said: “It is obvious that the costs to the council are much more than the income from the planning fees. Many would suggest the council should receive full cost recovery.
“But in order to achieve this a more detailed breakdown of all the costs should be sought, bearing in mind that south of the border planning fees are up to 10 times higher.”
Inverness Councillor Jim Crawford said: “I’m sure the weight of windfarm related applications is now so great that it has an impact on non windfarm applications. It’s bound to have a knock-on effect.
“Developers pay £25,000 here for an application for a windfarm compared with £250,000 south of the border. No wonder we’re at saturation point in Scotland.”
Calls have been made and bring Scotland into line with England on planning fees given the huge level of resources – including staff hours – spent handling the bids.
Helen McDade of the John Muir Trust, commented: “Cash-strapped councils who try to stand up for the environment and for their communities are often hammered by legal costs while giant energy companies who can potentially make tens of millions of profit from a single windfarm are paying a relative pittance in fees.
“This underlines our concern that the planning system in Scotland is strongly skewed in favour of developers.”