Staff blog: Planning inconsistencies
Mel Nicoll reflects on how two major planning decisions underline the need for consistency in wild land protection
Two major planning decisions by the Scottish Government this month have further underlined the need for a more robust and consistent approach to wild land and special landscapes.
Both applications were opposed by local communities, conservationists, local authorities and other public agencies. Yet the outcomes were starkly different.
The first announcement – that Ministers had refused the 25-turbine Crossburns wind farm in Highland Perthshire close to Loch Tay – was greeted by general relief. But that was immediately tempered by news later the same day that another industrial-scale development – Cairn Duhie (20 turbines) on the Dava Moor just to the north of the Cairngorms National Park – had been approved.
Although neither development falls within officially-mapped Wild Land Areas, the John Muir Trust opposed both applications because of the cumulative impact of large-scale energy infrastructure in these areas.
The Trust only objects to a small minority of applications, and has tended not to oppose moderate development outside wild land. But we did lodge an objection to these proposals because the additional turbines, on top of existing development, threatened to fundamentally alter the character of these landscapes.
Encouragingly, in their decision to reject the Crossburns Wind Farm, the Reporters pointed out that the wildness of this part of Highland Perthshire could be compromised, along with the scenic quality of views, viewpoints and landmarks.
The Trust, along with local campaigners, had fought hard against the application, hosting local exhibitions to highlight the issues, and giving evidence at the Public Local Inquiry in late 2016. Consequently, we strongly welcomed the decision by Ministers to reject the proposal.
But the landscape further north fared less well. Despite overwhelming opposition, including objections from Highland Council, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Moray Council the local community council, and 1900 individual letters (against 591 letters of support), the Reporter overseeing the Public Local Inquiry into the Cairn Duhie application concluded that the adverse impacts on landscape would not be unacceptable. He made much of the fact that the site is neither in a National Park, a National Scenic Area or an official Wild Land Area.
The Trust and the Cairngorms National Park rejected that argument. We pointed out that a major wind farm on Dava Moor, just a few miles outside the boundary of both the National Park and Wild Land Area 15, would be in conflict with national planning policy because of the cumulative impact that large-scale developments such as these will have on national designations, to the extent that the qualities for which they were designated are at risk of being lost.
The differing treatment of the two applications serves as a stark reminder that more of Scotland’s special landscapes remain at risk while there is scope for Reporters to reach glaringly different conclusions even when the landscape impact issues are equally significant.