Turbines turned down on wild landscape harm

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) advice that a proposal for 14 wind turbines 116 metres high in the Highlands would adversely affect wild land has been supported by a reporter in dismissing the developers' appeal.

The site lay in a special landscape area recognised as "iconic" in the appellant’s environmental statement, forming a focus in many views from the surrounding landscape. The statement nonetheless concluded that the wind farm would not have a significant impact on the designated area of wild land.

This claim was disputed by SNH, which asserted that it would significantly affect the area’s atmosphere of sanctuary or solitude and undermine appreciation of the awe-inspiring qualities of the landscape. The turbine development would lead to total loss or alteration of these attributes and undermine the site’s status as an area of wild land, it warned.

The reporter agreed that the proposal would introduce man-made objects and artefacts into the area of wild land and the impact would be augmented by other wind farms in the vicinity. These impacts would undermine the area’s special qualities and could not be adequately mitigated, he found.

He acknowledged that the locality was regularly subject to misty weather, reducing the times when the wind farm would be visible either on its own or in combination with other developments. However, he decided that this factor was irrelevant because the assessment had to be made on the assumption of clear weather conditions.

In dismissing the appeal, the reporter rejected the appellants’ claim for expenses against SNH. He agreed that SNH was not immune an award of expenses. Its change of approach following revised national policy in 2014 referring to wild areas was not unreasonable, he judged. The agency’s evidence had been helpful in allowing him to reach an informed decision and it had not acted unreasonably, he concluded.

Reporter: Bob Maslin; Inquiry

Comment: SNH advice on the impact of turbines on wild land was also instrumental in last month’s Scottish Government decision to refuse consent under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 for another 14-turbine wind farm in another part of Sutherland (DCS Number 200-004-332). In a decision issued eight days after the case reported above, they refuted the appellant’s claim that the most important tract of wild land in the locality would not be affected and found that the scheme’s impacts could not be mitigated. While recognising the scheme’s benefits in addressing climate change, producing secure electricity supplies and generating significant local revenue, they concluded that the adverse impact on wild land outweighed these considerations.

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