Trust criticises Highland Council planners

Northern Highlands under threat as planners ignore wind farm guidance.

As the nation embarks on the Year of Natural Scotland, the John Muir Trust has criticised the Highland Council’s Planning Department for ignoring planning guidance designed to protect our most treasured natural spaces.

Planning officials have recommended to councillors that they raise no objection to several industrial-scale developments, which involve some of the UK’s best wild land areas – most recently, the Dalnessie Wind Development in Sutherland.

Scottish Natural Heritage and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland have also objected to Dalnessie on the grounds that it would permanently tarnish areas of spectacular wild beauty.

Fraser Wallace, Policy Officer for the John Muir Trust said: “Highland Council’s planners are blatantly disregarding commitments made in Scottish Government planning documents to protect our nationally important wild land.

“The key government document, Scottish Planning Policy 2010, explicitly states that wild land in Scotland's remoter upland, mountain and coastal areas is sensitive to intrusive human activity and should therefore be safeguarded by planning authorities. (see notes for full quote)

“Dalnessie is one of these sensitive upland areas. It is close to Ben Klibreck, the second most northerly Munro in Scotland. It is also near a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and it surrounds a European Special Protection Area which contains a high percentage of the UK’s rare black-throated divers.”

The John Muir Trust has only objected to a small proportion of the total number of industrial wind development applications.

However, several large developments in the North West of Scotland, such as Dalnessie, Glencassley, Glenmorie and Sallachy, are of significant concern.

In a committee report, Highland planners have claimed that the position of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Government on wild land protection is unclear. However, ongoing work by SNH through its wild land mapping efforts is designed to bolster, not to weaken the existing protection of wild land.

Currently Scottish Government Ministers are considering how the wild land work by SNH should be married to specific policies. Until that decision, current policy recognises wild land as a national and international asset, which means that there is no approved planning policy basis for downgrading wild land protection.

The John Muir Trust is concerned that the torrent of wind applications in the Highlands might be pressurising planners into rushing into hasty decisions which are not sufficiently robust.

Fraser Wallace said: “Highland councillors must question any papers or recommendations which suggest that wild land is only of regional importance.

“It is ironic that such recommendations are being made in the Year of Natural Scotland. Recently, the international broadcaster, CNN, declared Scotland the most desirable tourist destination for 2013 because of its pristine mountain scenery.

“Poorly-sited development threatens the Highlands’ premier tourist resource – its wild land. And as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gases, Industrial-scale wind developments are self-defeating: by damaging the health of peat bogs – an important carbon sink – they release carbon into the atmosphere.”