David Bell: Objectivity is the key to planning process for wind farms

THE Scottish Government has recently announced two large-scale wind farm consents, the £250 million 177MW Dorenell development and a 21MW extension to the 104MW Muaitheabhal wind farm on the Isle of Lewis.

A common protestation that accompanied both decisions was that local opinion had been ignored. However, this view completely fails to take into account the detailed planning procedures.

The Dorenell wind farm was given consent following a public inquiry, which provided an open forum for all parties. Consent was only provided, once all of this evidence had been weighed up by an objective reporter and submitted to ministers for a decision. The role of the reporter is not to be underestimated.

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One of the key decisions facing a reporter is how to deal objectively with the effects of the development in terms of their acceptability. The reporter will also need to take into account the differing local views of whether to view the landscape and visual effects of the development as positive or negative.

Generally, the visual and landscape effects of wind farms are considered negative in planning judgements, but there may be circumstances where an explicitly positive view is taken. This could apply, for example, to large brownfield sites, which can be enhanced with the siting of turbines. Even in cases where an adverse perspective is taken, it should not result in a development automatically being refused consent.

Strong personal opinions about the intrinsic visual qualities of wind turbines will always be a key element of wind energy development in the UK. That’s why it is crucial that these decisions are taken by an independent decision maker with the application of professional judgement.

These issues of aesthetics bedevil the planning assessment of wind energy development much more than the assessment of other forms of development.

By continuing to take an objective approach which provides recommendations based on balance, we will continue to instill greater confidence in the planning system.

• David C Bell is director and head of planning at Jones Lang LaSalle