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Community objections to wind farms in Highlands fall on stony ground

By Scott Maclennan

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Stark new figures have revealed how communities in the Highlands objecting to wind farms have been ignored on at least 40 occasions in the last five years by the Scottish Government.

A Freedom of Information request shows that planning bosses based in the Central Belt overruled or dismissed 'sincere objections' from local stakeholders to grant consent to wind farms dotted across the region.

In the last half decade, the tax-payer funded energy consents unit – which determines major applications with a generating capacity in excess of 50 megawatts – approved 35 developments objected to by community councils and a further five when Highland Council raised an objection.

Matthew Reiss is a critic of the planning process for renewable energy developments.
Matthew Reiss is a critic of the planning process for renewable energy developments.

The revelations sparked an angry response from one local Highland councillor Matthew Reiss, a critic of the planning process for renewable energy which he described as Orwellian.

Part of the problem stems, he claimed, from an 'unholy alliance' of large profit-driven power companies and the Scottish Government which will not even consider its application system might be 'imperfect'.

He said: “The figures revealed by this FOI lay out in unambiguous terms the undemocratic and Orwellian planning system that allows the government to airbrush out sincere objections to some developments, even when hundreds have objected.

“The Scottish Government proclaims localism as an aspiration or objective – these figures ridicule that claim. South of the border local people have much more say in such matters.

“It is not dissimilar to the Clearances, when profitable sheep rearing industries some with their origins in the south drove Highlanders off the land.”

Despite approaching the minister for energy, connectivity and the islands Paul Wheelhouse, who represents a seat in the borders, to call for research into the matter, Councillor Reiss says that all he got were evasions.

“Specifically, my request to the minister last August for a simple piece of research into the effects of multiple local on-shore wind farm applications in a relatively small area has been carefully not answered, using Orwellian language,” he said.

“This research would cost little and would inform Scottish Government officials in their deliberations about some of these repetitive planning applications, which I think amounts to a form of corporate bullying of small, fragile rural communities by the system.

“An unholy alliance of a government unable to even consider that their current systems might be imperfect, money-driven largely foreign investment from energy companies and a few landowners who, perhaps understandably, are tempted by the easy millions of pounds offered up on a plate.

The Scottish Government was approached for comment but did not respond but SNP MSP Maree Todd said it was a matter for regulations.

She commented: “As a local MSP, who has no formal role in the planning process, I have always been supportive of the benefits that wind energy can bring in terms of clean energy, community benefit and good quality jobs to the Highlands.

“Decisions on individual applications, whether they are taken by local authorities or by the Scottish Government, need to be taken on the basis of planning policy that is in place to ensure that the right developments take place in the right locations.

“Where a planning authority objects to a proposed onshore wind development, and that objection is not withdrawn, it is mandatory that a public local inquiry be caused.

“This provides a public forum for issues raised by the authority and other objectors to be fully explored, and for ministers to consider the detail of that inquiry, before a decision to consent or refuse is reached.”

But Highland Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said the issue indicates how much faith the SNP places in local views: “The Scottish Government trumpets the need for local decision-making and yet this proves how much they ignore democracy.

“The result of their actions is that local councils have to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds defending local decisions, which the central Government overturns.

“I believe that the Scottish Government needs to listen much more to community and local councils and not to do so demonstrates a true lack of trust.”

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