THE Scottish Government is ‘pressurising’ local authorities into tolerating marginally acceptable planning applications for wind farms, writes Mark Entwistle.
So claims Councillor Michael Cook (East Berwickshire, Ind), Scottish Borders Council Executive Member for HR & Corporate Improvement.
Mr Cook’s comments came in the wake of the October session of the full local authority, which agreed to examine the possibility of adopting a planning policy which would deem the region to be at full capacity for wind turbines, with any future applicants having to argue to be the exception for approval.
Mr Cook told fellow councillors that many people in his ward of East Berwickshire, now felt the area to be almost “under siege” from wind farm developers.
But any such ‘exception’ policy for turbine applications could run foul of Scottish Government national strategic planning policy, which wants further wind farm expansion in order to meet renewable energy targets.
Speaking to TheSouthern this week, Mr Cook said there can already be tension between the two bodies, with the council the main body responsible for setting local strategic planning policy.
“However, what so concerns me and others is Scottish Government’s increasing pressuring of authorities to ‘tolerate’ marginally acceptable applications in pursuit of its agenda,” he said.
The region’s planning committee has seen a number of refusal decisions over-turned by reporters on appeal.
While it has to judge applications on a quasi-judicial basis, Mr Cook stresses it does so against a regulatory framework, which itself is the product of a political and democratic process.
However, he claims this process is now being subverted by the Scottish Government:
“Scottish Government must resist the temptation to override the local democratic will reflected in the planning policies and framework set by locally elected members,” added Mr Cook.
“What worries me most of all, of course, is, if this is Monday, that, figuratively, we wake up on Friday finding that we have irreparably damaged the landscape value of Berwickshire and the Borders, and with it the amenity of countless of our citizens whose interest I and others vowed to protect in standing for election.”
And he added that recent surveys of the impact of turbines on tourism by both the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland and the John Muir Trust, had found people reluctant to visit areas with too many of the structures.
“Unfortunately, that could translate into a significant hit on business – especially in an area such as East Berwickshire, where people can very quickly travel straight through in search of more unspoiled areas,” he said.