Jobs v Environment wind farm battle heads for Holyrood in key inquiry over ‘wild land’ planning

Holyrood logoThe Scottish Government is being urged by Scottish Conservatives not to ‘buckle to pressure’ from energy firms over plans to ban windfarms from wild lands and establish boundaries between turbines and towns and villages.

The central issue is an ‘Environment v. Jobs’ debate, with commercial wind farm developers claiming that the proposed ‘areas of separation’ between wind farms and the designations of ‘core wild land’ as being too wide, while pro-environmental groups consider that the proposals are too lax.

Companies including Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) will criticise the recent planning proposals at tomorrow’s Economy and Energy Committee meeting of MSPs in Holyrood.

In contrast, both the John Muir Trust and Scottish Environment Link will tell MSPs the measures don’t go far enough.

These issues will come to a direct lobbying head tomorrow in parliament when the Energy Committee considers the benignly-named Draft Third National Planning Framework (NPF3) and Review of Scottish  Planning Policy when MSPs are due to take evidence first from: –

  •  
  • Brian Galloway, Energy Policy Director, ScottishPower;
  • David Bell, Director, Jones Lang Lasalle (representing SSE);
  • Jenny Hogan, Director of Policy, Scottish Renewables;
  • Ken Cronin, Chief Executive, United Kingdom Onshore Operator’s
  • Group;
  • And then from:  
  • Helen McDade, Head of Policy, John Muir Trust;
  • Aedán Smith, Head of Planning & Development, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland;
  • Malcolm MacLeod, Head of Planning, Highlands Council;
  • Steve Rogers, Head of Planning, Dumfries & Galloway Council;
  •  
  • Followed by evidence from:
  •  
  • Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning,
  • John McNairney, Chief Planner
  • Graham Marchbank, Principal Planner, and
  • Chris Stark, Head of Electricity Division, Scottish Government.

 

The Scottish Conservatives have said the SNP must not give into the energy giants, who stand to gain financially from the development of wind farms across Scotland.

Last year, the Scottish Government announced its intention to establish a 2.5km separation between any new developments and residential settlements, something that had been suggested by the Scottish Conservatives months before.

Plans were also announced to safeguard Scotland’s most valued landscapes from future windfarm submissions.

A spokesman for Scottish Power said: “As a responsible developer, with over 1.3 GW installed renewables capacity, and 16 onshore wind farms in Scotland, we view the proposals for a separation distance of 2.5km between settlements and wind farms, and a perceived presumption against onshore wind farms in Core Areas of Wild Land as disproportionate and believe they could severely constrain future development of onshore wind, and therefore undermine Scotland’s renewable and climate change targets.

The Scottish Renewables trade association, said: “The introduction of the Scottish Natural Heritage Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map could set a dangerous precedent by introducing controls over diverse areas of land and act as a barrier to well-sited, appropriate developments which could be of great benefit locally and nationally.”

Scottish Renewables (as reported in the Scottish Energy News last month) has already launched a critical attack on the way Scottish Natural Heritage carried out its land map survey. The association adds: “The proposal to extend the separation distance to 2.5km would have a significant adverse impact on the successful deployment of onshore wind generation, as shown by Scottish Renewables mapping exercise in response the SPP consultation.

“It is also unduly onerous and discriminatory when contrasted, for example, with the separation distance of 500m for opencast mineral extraction.Mapping where turbines should be excluded “could set a dangerous precedent”.

And SSE suggested it could “seriously undermine and jeopardise the ability to meet the central energy and sustainable development policy objectives of the Scottish Government”, adding that the boundaries change is not “necessary or justified”.

Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) plc, is also set to turn up the political heat over shale oil gas. Its submission to Holyrood MSPs states:

“Whilst SSE does not hold a view on the actual development of unconventional gas, as this is not a core business activity, it recognises that gas in general will have a key role to play in meeting demand, both for heat and electricity generation, over the short to medium term.

“SSE therefore supports a cautious approach to the exploitation of unconventional gas, providing environmental protection is fully considered throughout the development and restoration associated with the development of unconventional gas.”

In contrast, the John Muir Trust says in its evidence: “It is crucial that the national planning does not become a vehicle for fast-tracking controversial decisions, using the “national interest” argument to rule out any rigorous examination  of the plan by all interested parties.

“This would be a dangerous erosion of democratic rights.”

MSP Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative energy spokesman, commented: “There is a clear contrast in views between those who want to protect the environment and countryside, and those who stand to make vast amounts of money from wind farm development.”

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