Assessing impacts on Wild Land Areas (WLAs)

Published: 8th March 2017

Trust detailed analysis of the draft SNH guidance

Trust key principle 1

SNH should only adopt the methodology if it is confident that the final methodology will protect WLAs from gradual attrition, ie there must be no risk that the adopted methodology will undermine the principle of the WLAs and the protection of wild land as established by Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework 3. This is the acid test which needs to be applied.

Trust analysis:-

The Wild land Areas were brought into planning policy to ensure that the wildest parts of Scotland are not lost to future generations. The National Planning Framework 3 statement “We also want to continue our strong protection for our wildest landscapes - wild land is a nationally important asset” is absolutely clear.  Therefore, the guidance and process would be inadequate if it results in the consenting of developments which have an impact on WLAs so that, if revisited with the same methodology used by SNH to originally define the WLAs, the line around a WLA would come out differently and result in a smaller WLA. (See the comments from the Wildland Research Institute, experts in wild land mapping).

Trust key principle 2

The correct baseline for a study area with a WLA must be the SNH descriptor of that WLA as originally published (January 2017).  We believe that giving the assessor the remit to establish the baseline could be very problematic.  

Trust analysis:-

Step 2 of the guidance requires the assessor to establish the baseline, ie “confirm the wild land qualities of the study area and the nature of their contribution to the WLA.”  Paragraph 16 of the proposed guidance talks about reviewing the baseline, taking into account “any changes that may have occurred, either within or outwith the WLA since the SNH map and WLAs descriptions were produced.”  

We are concerned this could be an open door for a developer’s consultant to write a lengthy report about why, in their opinion, part/s of the WLA aren’t really wild land, aren’t as good as other bits of the WLA and don’t really matter to the WLA. This might especially be argued where developments are proposed on the edge of a WLA and considering impacts which are already there. 

The Trust and other objectors have seen this type of argument – dividing the Wild Land Area into smaller areas and claiming that some of these areas cannot be called wild land - used time and again in the Environmental Statements submitted by developers and also argued by developers’ agents at Public Local Inquiries since the WLAs were adopted in Scottish Planning Policy in 2014.

We do not think it is right to give the assessor the right to establish the baseline given that the Scottish Government adopted a WLAs map with “hard” line boundaries, rather than a map with gradations of wildness.  Hard line boundaries were presumably used to clearly show that a different standard of protection should apply inside and outside the line, i.e. to give clarity and clear guidance about the more precautionary approach that should be used to ensure protection of the wildness qualities in the whole of those specific areas. 

There is a danger that the draft methodology could open the door for developers to argue the merits of smaller areas within a WLA.  This would contradict the fundamental principle established by the WLAs map, that of clearly identifying the most extensive areas of high wildness in Scotland and, in turn, of wild land being protected as a national asset through Scottish planning policy.

Of course, the WLAs will still require a detailed assessment by professional landscape architects - the Trust’s argument is not that there is no place for a detailed landscape architect’s assessment, using the recommended GLVIA principles.  Our point is that the baseline is already set by the WLAs and that the assessment must start from the principle that the government intention, and therefore the planning process, is to protect the WLA so it is not diminished.

Trust key principle 3

SNH should have the lead role in assessing whether a wild land assessment is required in situations where there is a possibility that the proposed development will impact on a Wild Land Area.

Trust analysis:-

In “Annex 1: Frequently Asked Questions,” which form part of the suggested guidance, FAQ 2 says that:-“It is the decision making body (the Planning Authority or Scottish Ministers) who decide if a wild land assessment is required.  However, given its role, SNH may be consulted about the need for and scope of a wild land assessment …” (our emphasis).

We believe as a matter of principle that SNH, as the government’s expert advisor on wild land, must be the body which decides whether a wild land assessment is required in situations where there is a possibility that the proposed development will impact on a WLA.  Local authority planning departments are widely recognised as being under massive pressure, particularly in parts of Scotland where there is a high volume of wind farm application proposals.  Furthermore, the, Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit does not have specialised landscape architects or wild land experts to carry out wild land assessments.  It is therefore not enough that the Planning Authority or Scottish Ministers may consult SNH. 

We hope you will find this information helpful in making your own response to the SNH consultation. 

Send your comments - using your own words as much as possible - to SNH by Friday 7 April using their online form