Scottish Natural Heritage – the government’s adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland – has published new guidelines on the use of computer-generated photo-montages used by developers when submitting wind parc planning applications.
These are used by developers to support planning applications and help councils and the public to consider potential landscape and visual effects. These include maps, photomontages and wireline drawings which help assess the impact of a planned wind farm.
The new ‘Visual Representation of Wind Farms’ guidance replaces the previous version from 2006. It provides the framework for a consistent approach and the delivery of better information to support decision-making. It aims to provide a consistent, proportionate approach and the guidance:
Standardises photographic requirements;
Provides better representations of proposed wind farms;
Specifies larger images which are easier for the public and decision makers to use;
Requires developers to provide a viewpoint pack for members of the public and decision makers to use on site;
Requires the production of images with an equivalent focal length of 75mm, increased from 50mm;
Recommends new digital methods to make it easier for the public to view images online;
Includes a method to verify images have been presented correctly, helping to increase public confidence in the images.
The new guidance is supported by the Scottish Government; Landscape Institute; Scottish Renewables, and Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS).
It will be phased in over six months reflecting the fact many developers have already taken photos for applications about to be submitted. Those producing visualisations will also be given detailed training by SNH.
And it now recommends that viewpoints out to 20 kilometres should be illustrated using the new method. It highlights the need for ‘zone of theoretical visibility’ maps to show where a wind farm would be visible from.
Alongside the publication of the new guidance, SNH will shortly commission further research on wind farm visualisations. This will test whether the new methodology has improved the quality and accessibility of visualisations with a view to informing its further refinement in future.
Brendan Turvey, policy and advice manager for renewables, Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “The new guidance will deliver a significant improvement in the way wind farms are represented. It builds on our experience of assessing wind farms across Scotland.
“It will ensure images are easier to use and give a clearer impression of how the wind farm would sit in the landscape. It will also make it easier to illustrate cumulative effects.
“No visualisation can ever represent exactly what the wind farm will look like, due to different weather conditions, lighting, and turbine movement. But we think this is as good as we can recommend using current methods and technology.
“We have worked closely with the renewables industry, landscape consultants and Scottish councils to develop this. The challenge was to design a tool that meets everyone’s needs but wasn’t too complex. The guidance is part of our efforts to improve the assessment of wind farm applications and help get the right developments in the right places.”
Ian Aikman, from Heads of Planning Scotland, added: “The new SNH guidance will provide a consistent national approach to the production of visualisations for turbine and wind farm proposals in Scotland. This will greatly assist decision makers in their consideration of the visual and landscape consequences of such developments and should ensure that decisions are based on robust information.“