SNH CONSULTATION: ASSESSING IMPACTS ON WILD LAND AREAS
SNH have indicated that, following the consultation period (26th January to
7th April 2017) they will consider the responses and issue final guidance. This
guidance attempts to provide a tool to evaluate the impacts of planning applications
either within a designated Wild Land Area (WLA) or a development location that
is situated on the boundary of a WLA. The draft
guidance essentially includes a series of logical steps for conducting an
impact assessment and 6 examples are provided to show how this type of assessment
may look like in practice.
The questions posed in this consultation are:
1) Does the 2017 draft guidance provide a clear explanation of the methodology
and general principles for assessing the impact of development proposals on
Wild Land Areas?
2) Are the examples within Annex 2 helpful in illustrating the approach to assessing
NEMT considers this to be an important opportunity to influence guidance on
the protection of wild land. The following is the NEMT response to the recent
SNH consultation on draft guidance.
- The North East Mountain Trust is a voluntary body (Scottish Charity SCIO
008783) which acts on behalf of its members to protect Scotland's upland
and remoter coastal environments. With individual and club membership, NEMT
represents around 1000 people, and it undertakes an educational function through
its dissemination activities.
- The Trust considers this consultation to be one of the more important from
its perspective, since the Guidelines will (or should) play a major role in
framing developer intentions and actions in relation to proposals likely to
affect Wild Land Areas (WLAs), a relatively new designation which needs firm
defence if it is not to be weakened under developer and other pressures, e.g.
those from other policy areas.
- The bulk of the Trust's views are presented here under the first question,
with a few being presented under the second question asked in this consultation.
Both sets contain a series of "General" comments, followed by "Specific"
comments which relate to individual paragraphs in the consultation draft.
- The document appears to be written for developers rather than for planning
authorities, although this is not specifically stated. The experience of the
Scottish Environment LINK hill tracks group is that planning authorities cannot
be guaranteed to take the WLA map and its descriptions as seriously as they
should. The document should be oriented towards both developers and planning
authorities, and should state that it is for the use of both. It should also
be understandable by lay readers who may wish to submit representations on
planning proposals, which will include (or may omit) a Wild Land Area Assessment.
- The Trust strongly agrees with Scottish Planning Policy 2014, point 200,
that wild land characters "are very sensitive to any form of intrusive
human activity and have little or no capacity to accept new development",
and this should be re-stated in the Guidance. Certain position statements
in the draft Guidance represent a weakening of (SNH) position in comparison
with the SNH February 2007 Interim Guidance Note "Assessing the Impacts
on Wild Land". In particular, this earlier document underscores the fragility
of the edges of WLAs: "Gradual attrition at the edges of wild land should
be avoided if possible. Wild land can be damaged, if not lost, through the
cumulative effect of detractors around the edges reducing the central area."
The earlier document is also in several respects easier to read, more descriptive,
and more transparent with greater clarity of use of language.
- If a major development (or even a minor one, in some cases) is approved
in a WLA, then there is a danger that that Area can no longer be defined entirely
as 'wild land' and that some or even all of that Area will have
to be removed from the map. The areas covered by the map will, therefore,
shrink over time. Aspects of the guidance need to be strengthened to prevent
this happening. It is possible to develop a small hydro scheme in a way which
would not have a significant long-term effect on 'wildness', but
this is simply not the case with a wind farm (as opposed to, say, a single
turbine next to a shooting lodge) where no amount of 'mitigation'
will reduce the impact to a point where the area can still be considered to
have wild qualities. It is of very significant concern, therefore, that the
very first point in Annex 1 ("Frequently Asked Questions") includes
the statement: "development in these areas (including wind farms) may
be appropriate". The phrase 'including wind farms' should be
removed as it is inconsistent with point 200 of Scottish Planning Policy 2014.
- The Guidance should clearly state that larger-scale infrastructure developments
wholly or partly in WLAs are bound to erode wild land qualities to the point
that the area involved and its surroundings can no longer be considered to
be wild land, and so such developments should not be proposed. The same applies
to such developments outside WLAs where the impact on the WLA is such that
its wild land attributes are significantly diminished. The 2007 interim document
points out that "a detractor does not have to be within lan area of wild
land to affect it."
- In para 24, it is acknowledged that mitigation of the effects of large-scale
projects is impossible. As no amount of mitigation will significantly remove
the impact of a wind farm on a WLA, Example 3 in Annex 2 (a wind farm partially
sited in a wild land area) should be removed.
- The draft is unclear - at least to most lay readers - as to the mutual
relationships between WLA Assessment (WLAA), LVIA and EIA. The nature of these
three types of assessment should be briefly described, and the circumstances
in which one, two or all three should be demanded by planning authorities
should be made clearer.
- The document makes no mention of increased "activity" within the
WLA or "study area" as a result of the development: this would usually
be more walkers and cyclists (especially if a circular route is created),
and/or more vehicles (whether moving or parked). Any such activity is likely
to detract from "wildness". There may also be other possibilities
omitted, e.g. camping, litter, pylons.
- Similarly, the Guidance makes no mention of biodiversity (or "wildlife")
as a particular feature of WLAs, as it did in the 2007 guidance. The potential
impact of developments on biodiversity within a WLA must surely be of critical
importance. See "Specific point" below re para 10.
Specific points (itemised by paragraph number etc. in the draft Guidance)
Para 2: surely "principles" should precede "methodology"?
It might be helpful to point out the specific aspect(s) of the "Scottish
Planning Policy" (is there only one?) which this guidance is intended to
Para 4: Presumably this para refers in its entirety to (G)LVIA (and not
to WLAA). How is "significant" to be assessed (or measured?) '-
This might be done in various ways, e.g. physical size, physical nature (e.g.
built vs. natural), number (and maybe types, e.g. locals or visitors) of "viewers".
Para 5: It is not clear what "assessment" is referred to here: LVIA or
WLA? Presumably LVIA, since WL(A)A is "introduced" in the next para. In any
case, the text should be strengthened to say that a WLAA is always required
within a WLA, as stated in the interim guidance: "In all cases the applicants
should make early contact with SNH for advice on the approach for an individual
site", and is required for a proposed development outwith an WLA if that development
will have a visual impact within the adjacent WLA. The last line should be changed
to 'The need for an assessment of a proposed development outwith a wild land
area must be discussed with the decision maker and SNH at an early stage'.
Para 6: We suggest stating that the assessment must always be undertaken
by a suitably qualified landscape professional.
Para 10: As regards the first "physical attribute", the 2007
Guidance Note has "a high degree of perceived naturalness in the setting,
especially in its vegetation cover and wildlife, and in the processes affecting
the land"; this should be given in full.
Para 15: Early discussion with SNH should take place in every case.
Para 16: What exactly is the/a "baseline"? '- presumably
simply a (further?) description of the WLA or sub-area? This paragraph should
begin "When restating the baseline
"; as it stands, "reviewing
the baseline" might be understood as giving planners the option to change
the description of qualities as designated for each WLA. Further fieldwork should
"simply" confirm the characteristics at potential risk.
Para 19: The first sentence does not sufficiently distinguish "WLA
descriptions" (already in existence: see para 12) from "fieldwork"
(to be carried out by the WLAA assessor): the term "further" or "specific"
should be inserted before "fieldwork".
Para 23: The sentence "When evaluating the significance of effects,
the subjective nature of perceptual responses should be taken in account."
is unclear. Paragraph 3.1 of the Interim Guidance provides useful examples of
detractors from wild land condition. An example may assist interpretation.
Para 24: It is unclear why proposals for developments adjacent to a WLA
are excluded here.
Para 25. Box 2: The last section on restoration should be strengthened
as it is often the case that restoration is inadequately outlined in applications
and not carried out or maintained properly. The assessment should describe in
detail what restoration is needed to mitigate the visual effects. The example
given should be expanded to include the post-construction grassing-over of all
tracks, in full or at least the creation of a central vegetation strip.
Annex 1 para 2: We suggest that SNH should always be consulted.
Annex 2 Comments - General
- The examples show the Step 3 sensitivities as being assessed only as either
"High" or "Medium"; are "Low" or "Negligible" (or even "Very High") possible?
- Similarly, the Step 4 "effects" (or "impacts"?) are given as "Negligible", "Low", "Medium", or "High",
as "Adverse" or "Positive", and in the "short", "medium" or "long" term. An indication of these "terms"
should be given, e.g. years 0-2, 5, and 10 (though some effects will take longer).
- See "general" comment 3 in the previous box as regards Example 3.
- It might be helpful to include a "coastal" WLA example.
- The examples given might have an additional section - 'Step 6 -
Options for mitigation, including alternatives'.
Annex 2 Comments - Specific
Examples 4a and 4b: Except on close reading, these appear to be identical,
except for the Step 5 Judgment. Their titles (also at start of Annex 2) should be made clearer.
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