AN alliance of leading land and heritage bodies have launched an unprecedented and scathing attack on the Scottish Government's controversial windfarms policy.

 

An open letter, which calls into question the government's judgement on large windfarm projects, has been signed by a group of rural protection groups including the National Trust for Scotland.

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It says the government, in backing large windfarm developments, has ignored its own advisors and failed to ensure windfarm plans have been laid open to "proper and democratic scrutiny".

Signed by the leaders of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Munro Society, Ramblers Scotland, the Scottish Wild Land Group and Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, the letter says there is public disquiet about the proliferation of windfarms in Scotland's wild lands.

It says: "It is vital that any decisions on the location of these developments rely on the fair and impartial assessment of all pertinent information and points of view.

"The people of Scotland depend on their Government to ensure this happens.

"Unfortunately, we do not believe that the Scottish Government is doing this in a consistent manner with windfarm developments."

It adds that "in the face of evidence and objections", the government has approved "colossal" wind farms at Stronelairg in the Monadhliath Mountains, and offshore, straddling the Firths of the Forth and Tay.

In both cases the Scottish Government "chose to ignore" the views of its own expert advisors from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

This advice, the organisations say, "made it absolutely clear that the impact from these turbines will be very significant, and that the locations were problematic as a result".

They add: "It seems iniquitous to us that, having put in place a planning system which invites the expert views of statutory consultees, the Scottish Government too frequently ignores them if they prove inconvenient.

"At the very least, evidence of this calibre from SNH should trigger Public Inquiries."

The letter concludes: "We therefore call on the Scottish Government to commit to taking cognisance of its own advisors.

"Rather than force objectors to challenge these decisions in the courts at great expense, the Scottish Government should first ensure they have been exposed to the proper and democratic scrutiny that their scale and potential impact warrants."

John Milne, co-ordinator of the Scottish Wild Land Group, said: "Industrial developments, such as these huge wind farms, have no place in our wildest landscapes.

"Scottish Government decision-making too often ignores expert opinion and prioritises claimed economic gain over the need to protect nature and our environment."

Terry Levinthal, director of conservation and projects at the NTS, added: "We count on the Scottish Government to have in place a fair and transparent process that ensures proposed developments are properly scrutinised and that important ecological factors are considered fully.

"Unfortunately, the evidence from Stronelairg and the Forth and Tay wind energy projects suggests that even the expert opinions of the Government's own advisors can be brushed aside if they are inconvenient.

"For our faith in the Scottish Government's decision-making to be restored, it must commit to taking heed of SNH and other statutory consultees' advice and reviewing their submitted evidence in the public realm."

The number of public objections to large-scale wind farms has more than doubled in the last year.

There were 5,942 complaints about developments of 50 megawatts (MW) and over in 2014, compared to 2,951 complaints the previous year.

A Scottish Government spokesman said that its policy aims to strike a balance between "Scotland's massive green energy potential and the need to protect some of the country's most scenic and wild areas".

He added: "That has resulted in a ban on wind farm development in areas covering almost a fifth of the landmass of Scotland.

"Scottish ministers very carefully considered all of the issues raised and all submissions made before coming to a decision on these wind farm applications.

"There are numerous competing considerations to be taken into account in determining these important decisions, and ministers take these responsibilities very seriously."

Scottish Planning Policy places a ban on windfarm development in the 19 per cent of Scotland identified as National Parks and National Scenic Areas, he added.