Scotland’s environmentalists and commercial wind farm developers united yesterday to welcome the new national planning framework NPF) announced by the government.
The key battle-ground in the Holyrood lobbying trenches during the Scottish Parliament’s Energy Committee consideration of the national planning framework was over the principle of the ‘buffer zones’ to protect local communities from turbine noise – whilst not stifling economic development in red-tape.
The wind parc ‘buffer zone’ principle has now also been bolted-on to the Scot-Govt’s planning rules for any shale gas and/or fracking applications – in marked contrast to UK government policy in England.
The new National Planning Framework-3 (NPF) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) will shape long term economic development and local planning policy in areas such as transport, town centres, energy and infrastructure, and balance economic growth with protection of the environment.
NPF3 confirms the Government’s support for 14 large-scale national developments, including major regeneration schemes at Dundee Waterfront and Ravenscraig, carbon capture and storage schemes in Peterhead and Grangemouth.
NPF3 and SPP also place a ban on windfarm development in the 19% of Scotland identified as National Parks and National Scenic Areas. Significant protection is provided to sensitive areas of land identified within Scottish Natural Heritage’s Wild Land Areas Map 2014.
In total, approximately 30% of Scotland’s landscape will benefit from stronger protection against inappropriate development.
In addition to the new rules protecting Scotland’s most scenic areas, tighter controls on onshore oil and gas developments have been introduced.
Five new measures are also being introduced in relation to hydraulic fracturing, including bringing in a requirement for buffer zones to ensure development only proceeds if communities and the environment can be protected. Operators will also have to consult with communities on their proposals.
Launching the Scottish Government’s vision for planning in Scotland, Planning Minister Derek Mackay, said: “This is a watershed for planning in Scotland – this revised planning policy will deliver improvements that will benefit the nation for decades to come.
“Our ambition is to create great places that support economic growth across the country, and together, NPF3 and the SPP set out a shared vision for Scotland as a place which benefits from a positive planning system that protects our unique environment.
“NPF3 confirms our support for 14 national developments that will drive economic growth, champion our most successful places, and support changes in areas where, in the past, there has been a legacy of decline
“This strategic focus will support the regeneration and reindustrialisation of Scotland, as well as improving transport and connectivity links, and ensuring sustainable development through support for green networks and low carbon energy supply.”
Commenting on the new measures to strengthen protection for scenic areas and wild land in relation to onshore wind farms and new measures to strengthen planning policy in relation to unconventional oil and gas development, Mackay added:
“The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to releasing Scotland’s onshore wind energy potential. However we have always made clear that we want the right developments in the right places.
“We have taken steps to ensure that no wind farm developments can go ahead in our cherished National Parks and National Scenic Areas, and we have strengthened the protection of wild land, with new maps and inclusion directly in the SPP and NPF3.
“This new policy also gives serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy.”
In a rare display of unity, the John Muir Trust, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Scotland’s renewable energy trade association all welcomed the NPF – following a particularly hostile attack by Scottish Renewables over ‘unscientific’ research.
SNP MSP Mike MacKenzie – who is also a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Energy Committee – commented: “Renewable energy is hugely important to Scotland’s economy and is a key success story for Scotland.
“But it is equally important that we protect Scotland’s natural assets and ensure that wind farm development only takes place in appropriate areas.
“I thus welcome the publication of the new planning policy which recognises that a balance must be struck to ensure we get the right developments in the right places, with increased protection for our most scenic and wild areas.”