THE decision-making process governing wind energy applications needs to be overhauled, according to a Highland councillor.
Margaret Davidson said piecemeal planning applications denied communities the chance to see the end picture and offered a slim chance to successfully object on sold grounds.
The Independent member for Aird and Loch Ness spoke out at this week’s Highland Council south planning applications committee.
She raised the concerns after applications for two temporary wind farm meteorological masts near Drumnadrochit were approved despite nearly 200 objections. Many opposers feared the structures set to be sited north west of Achratagan at Balnain and about half a mile from east of Creag Muigeil, Glenurquhart, would be a precursor to the Cnoc an Eas wind farm for Force 9 Energy partners LLP and EDF Energy Renewables.
Councillor Davidson said the residents’ objections carried little weight because national policy dictated that local authorities had to deal with wind farm mast applications on their own merits. They were not permitted to look ahead and object to the mast based on any potential future wind farm.
She said members owed it to communities to call for this to be changed.
"The way it works is first of all we get an application for a temporary mast. Then we get an application for a wind farm and we agonise over that, and then we get an application for a substation and overhead lines. Communities need to see the whole impact and understand what the issues are at the very first stage. We should not be deciding any wind farm masts before we see at least a sketch of the full picture of the wind farm."
She added: "It’s no use just saying this is a Scottish Government policy that we are implementing. We need to have a discussion about the council’s policies and what sort of line we are taking with government. I think we are failing in our duty to the public."
Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr agreed with Councillor Davidson.
He said: "We are getting a lot of people writing in and the fact that there is not much we can do about this makes a mockery out of the consultation."
Members agreed to discuss the issue more fully at the next meeting of the council’s planning development and infrastructure services committee on February 18th.
A spokeswoman said the Scottish Government welcomed comments from stakeholders on any aspect of the operation of the planning service at any time, however it has no plans at present for changes to development management procedures.
She suggested Highland Council consider reviewing the guidance it gives to local communities on responding to planning applications to ensure those interested in making their views known understand the process.
She added: "It would be inappropriate to pre-judge the potential acceptability of a location for a wind farm based upon an anemometer mast application or to take it as an absolute precursor of a future application. Proposals for overhead power lines and substations associated with energy development are covered under the Electricity Act 1989 and therefore require differing permissions as they are covered under different legislation. This often necessitates multiple applications."