The Scottish Government was criticised yesterday after it emerged it has approved 83% of all major onshore windfarm applications submitted in the last 5 years.
Official figures showed SNP ministers have given the go-ahead to 29 of 35 developments, many of them in the north and north-east, since taking power in 2007.
Conservative chief whip John Lamont claimed the figures sent out a message to big developers – “come straight to us and you have an 80% chance of success.
Helen McDade, head of policy at conservation charity John Muir Trust, said there was a “high risk of the planning system falling into disrepute, particularly given that the government had the power to overrule public inquiry decisions.
The governments target of generating 100% of electricity from renewables by 2020 seems unstoppable, claiming that tourists are largely indifferent to sensitively sited turbines.
Ms McDade said: “We are concerned that developments that clearly impact on environmental qualities have been given permission when it seems clear if there are very good planning policies that should not happen.
“Local people do not have any confidence in the system, particularly if you can win at a public inquiry then still be overruled by the government.
“The planning system is at high risk of falling into disrepute.”
Moray Council planning convener Douglas Ross said “The figures regarding wind turbines get more and more alarming and it is amazing there should be such a high percentage of Section 36 approved by the government. [quick reference section 36 ]
“I also have a concern that local authorities will stop objecting to Section 36 applications as these automatically trigger a local inquiry which councils have to foot the bill for.
“I worry that councils will decide it’s not worth objecting as they could spend a lot of money when the outcome is almost a fait accompli,” added Councillor Ross.
Windfarm Footprint map August 2012 Map PDF
Electricity Act cases
Applications to construct or extend an electricity generating station (including an onshore wind farm) with a capacity of more than 50 megawatts are made to the Scottish Ministers under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989. Scottish Ministers also deal with applications to construct overhead electric power lines (section 37) and, where these cannot be agreed, applications for any necessary wayleaves over land for the purpose of constructing or maintaining access to the power lines.
Public notification is given of any applications made to Scottish Ministers under section 36 and 37 and planning authorities, other statutory bodies and members of the public have the opportunity to object to the proposal. If objections are not resolved Scottish Ministers may, and in certain circumstances must, hold an inquiry in which case a DPEA reporter will be appointed. The reporter will submit a report to Scottish Ministers recommending whether or not consent should be granted. Ministers will decide whether consent should be granted, whether any consent given should be subject to conditions and whether deemed planning permission should be granted for the proposal.
In Scotland, applications to build and operate power stations and to install overhead power lines are made to the Scottish Ministers for consent. Applications are considered by Scottish Ministers where they are:
- for electricity generating stations in excess of 50 megawatts (MW)
- for overhead power lines and associated infrastructure, as well as large gas and oil pipelines
Such applications cover new developments as well as modifications to existing developments. Applications below these thresholds are made to the relevant local planning authority. Applications for marine energy (e.g. wave, tidal and offshore wind) are made to Marine Scotland.