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Call for responses from Caithness and Sutherland over wind farm decisions

By Alan Hendry

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Scotland Against Spin wants stronger powers for communities to influence planning decisions about onshore wind. Picture: Alan Hendry
Scotland Against Spin wants stronger powers for communities to influence planning decisions about onshore wind. Picture: Alan Hendry

Community groups and individuals in Caithness and Sutherland with concerns over wind farms are being urged to deliver an unequivocal message that "planning decisions should be made by local people and their elected representatives" – not by Scottish Government ministers.

Campaign group Scotland Against Spin (SAS) lodged a petition in 2021 seeking stronger powers for communities to influence planning decisions relating to onshore wind. The group has voiced concern over wind farms in the far north and other parts of the Highlands.

The petition to the Scottish Parliament's Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee is still under consideration.

SAS is now calling for responses to a consultation on resourcing Scotland's planning system which opened at the end of last month and has a deadline of May 31.

Onshore developments above 50 megawatts are determined by the Scottish Government under Section 36 of the Electricity Act. Residents in some areas have been left feeling powerless when wind farms have been given the go-ahead by ministers despite local opposition.

Aileen Jackson of SAS said: "As an area with one of the highest number of wind farms in Scotland, we have had tremendous support for our petition from campaign groups, individuals, community councils and even councillors in Caithness and Sutherland.

"This consultation is an ideal opportunity to tell the Scottish Government once and for all that planning decisions should be made by local people and their elected representatives, not Scottish ministers who know nothing about the area.

"Don't be put off by the number of questions in the consultation – you can answer as many or as few as you want to, but the one about the 50MW threshold is particularly important. To make sure your voice is heard, please reply by the deadline of May 31."

The SAS petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to increase the ability of communities to influence planning decisions for onshore wind farms by:

  • Adopting English planning legislation for determining onshore wind farm developments
  • Empowering local authorities to ensure communities are given sufficient professional help to engage in the planning process
  • Appointing an independent advocate to ensure that local participants are not bullied and intimidated during public inquiries

In a message to supporters, SAS said: "In response to our petition, the petitions committee wrote to the Scottish Government in March 2023 recommending that they should now 'undertake work to explore the benefits and disadvantages of altering the 50MW threshold for onshore wind farms'."

SAS has now received a letter from the principal planner in the energy team within the Scottish Government's Planning, Architecture and Regeneration Division.

The campaign group says: "It seems they listened and are now consulting all stakeholders. That includes members of the public.

"Please take this chance to tell them if you want the 50MW threshold to be changed so that decisions can be made at a local level rather than by Scottish ministers.

"How often have members of the public and councillors on planning committees complained that there is no point in objecting to an application when it is likely to be consented by Scottish ministers anyway?

"SAS has already suggested that any changes made could easily be financed through an increase in planning application fees."

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