Putting aside the question as to whether the Westminster Government's alterations to the subsidies for onshore wind are desirable in the face of climate change, it is interesting to speculate as to whether these changes will lead to a reduction in applications for major wind farms in areas of high scenic value. While companies may pause for a while, it seems unlikely that current pressures from developers on wild land will reduce in the medium term. What is more important is how planning authorities and the Scottish Government view the SNH's wild land map as this, on its own, brings no additional protection for the areas included. The central irony is that if major infrastructure projects are allowed to go ahead in the areas defined by the map, these will shrink incrementally and the map will get smaller and smaller.
Against the background of these concerns, it is heartening that two wind farms, which NEMT had objected to, will not go ahead. Allt Duine, the proposed major development on the southern side of the Monadliath, on the very edge of the National Park, was rejected by the Scottish Government as having "unacceptable landscape and visual aspects". The Reporter to the public enquiry for Beinn Mhor, near Tomich at the gateway to Glen Affric, refused the appeal by the developer. Reasons given included the disruption to road users over a lengthy period during construction along with visual effects, particularly for those visiting the hills on the north side of Affric.
When announcing the rejection of Allt Duine, John Swinney said: "The Scottish Government's policy on wind farms strikes a careful balance between maximising Scotland's huge green energy potential and protecting some of our most scenic landscape and wild areas."
NEMT applauds this statement which suggests that the Government now recognises that such a balance is essential. There is no reason why the drive to reduce our reliance on carbon should be at the expense of areas which bring major benefits in terms of ecology, human wellbeing and the economy.
The following is a round-up of the rest of the news:
Scottish and Southern Electricity has applied for planning consent for a substation for the proposed Stronelairg wind farm in the Melgarve/Garva Bridge area on the southern approaches to the Corrieyairack. NEMT is opposed to the wind farm itself and has lodged an objection to the substation. The wind farm is still subject to a judicial review brought by the John Muir Trust with the outcome of this expected soon. While objecting to the substation, NEMT argued that, should it receive consent, the opportunity should be taken to plant a much more extensive area with native tree species than is proposed in the application. This would lessen the visual impact further, be appealing to visitors, would encourage biodiversity and would sequester carbon.
Little Wyvis © R Webb
In the last Mountain Views, it was reported that the developer had appealed the decision to reject an application for a wind farm on the slopes of Little Wyvis. The public enquiry is ongoing.
Three major wind farms are proposed for this area which stretches North West from the Loch Shin area. The John Muir Trust is running a campaign to protect the area from such developments and NEMT has written to the Minister in support of this:
Dear Mr. Ewing,
Glencassley and Sallachy Windfarms Decision
I am writing to you on behalf of the North East Mountain Trust (NEMT). NEMT represents hill walkers, climbers and other groups of people who visit and enjoy Scotland's mountain land. Individual and club membership totals around 800 people. NEMT aims to protect wild land in Scotland from inappropriate developments for all who enjoy visiting such places. NEMT has a particular commitment to the greater Cairngorms area but maintains an interest in Scotland as a whole on behalf of its members.
This letter is to advise you of our concerns about the above decision. NEMT fully supports the Scottish Government's commitment to renewable energy and supports the development of wind energy in appropriate areas. We were also very pleased to see the commitment made to wild land when Scottish Natural Heritage's wild land map was adopted as part of the Scottish Planning Framework.
However, we believe that it is too early to make a significant exception to the wild land map so shortly after it was published. Glencassley and Sallachy wind farms, should you choose to approve them, would effectively remove Area 34 from the map. Any steps to mitigate the visual effects will be insufficient to prevent the "destruction" of the entire wild land area. If the wild land map is to have any significance, you cannot effectively remove an Area at the first challenge. To do so would undermine the whole basis of including the map in the Planning Framework.
A third wind farm at Caplich is also in the planning system and thus your decision will impact a potential combined development of 65 turbines. This will have a massive influence on the landscape of the area; potentially deterring some of the large numbers of tourist visitors so vital to the local economy.
Besides being on the SNH wild land map, Area 34 is internationally important for aspects such as its blanket bog and its associated Special Protection and Conservation Areas. It is important for species such as otters, golden eagles and many others. Otters and Golden Eagles attract considerable tourist interest. As Minister for Tourism, you will be aware of how important tourism income is to the remote communities in this area of Sutherland.
We suggest that communities be encouraged to develop community-scale schemes generating renewable electricity for their own use.
The letter was acknowledged but. as decisions regarding these wind farms are still in the planning process, it shed no light on the Government's position. The coming months will clarify how far the Government is committed to protecting the integrity of the wild land areas.
In its response to this consultation on spatial planning for onshore wind generation, NEMT argued that the authority's approach has tended to be piecemeal and a proper strategy based on 'landscape capacity' is long overdue.
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