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New planning policies to place ban on wind farms in Scotland's national parks

Measures to reduce the impact of "fracking" on communities and banning wind farms from Scotland's national parks have been included in the latest planning policies from the Scottish Government.

A new planning framework and policies have been drawn up to help determine planning decisions across the country in areas such as transport, energy and infrastructure.

Planning minister Derek Mackay hailed the publication of the National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3) as a "watershed" moment, adding that the revised policies would "deliver improvements that will benefit the nation for decades to come".

The NPF3 together with the new Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) will place a ban on wind farm developments in the 19% of Scotland which is either classed as a national park or a national scenic area.

New measures on using hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - to extract gas will require for locals to be consulted and for buffer zones to be set up between any such sites and communities in a bid to reduce the impact.

Mr Mackay said: "The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to releasing Scotland's onshore wind energy potential, however we have always made clear that we want the right developments in the right places.

"We have taken steps to ensure that no wind farm developments can go ahead in our cherished national parks and national scenic areas, and we have strengthened the protection of wild land, with new maps and inclusion directly in the SPP and NPF3."

He added: "This new policy also gives serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy. These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing which will compel operators to consult with the public.

"In addition, buffer zones will be established to protect communities and these will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.

"Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including Sepa's guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane."

The Scottish Government confirmed its support for 14 large-scale national developments - including the regeneration of Dundee waterfront and the Ravenscraig area and proposals for carbon capture and storage schemes at Peterhead and Grangemouth - in the NPF3.

Mr Mackay said: "Our ambition is to create great places that support economic growth across the country and, together, NPF3 and the SPP set out a shared vision for Scotland as a place which benefits from a positive planning system that protects our unique environment.

"NPF3 confirms our support for 14 national developments that will drive economic growth, champion our most successful places and support changes in areas where, in the past, there has been a legacy of decline.

"This strategic focus will support the regeneration and reindustrialisation of Scotland, as well as improving transport and connectivity links, and ensuring sustainable development through support for green networks and low carbon energy supply."

But Greens claimed the Scottish Government had not done enough to protect communities worried about fracking as they said there should be buffer zones of 2km as standard around such developments.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "They may not be as gung-ho as Westminster but the Scottish Government has failed to come down on the side of communities worried about the impacts of fracking.

"Greens proposed a 2km buffer zone but this has been rejected and now it will be up to developers to put forward a plan for approval.

"We already have standard buffer zones for wind farms and coal mines, so why not gas extraction?"

She added that the NPF3 contained "plenty of ambitious projects here for regenerating Scotland and building a more sustainable country" and said: "The focus now must be on creating the maximum number of high-quality jobs and ensuring that Scottish companies get the boost they deserve."

Joss Blamire, senior policy manager at industry body Scottish Renewables, backed the Government's efforts to make national scenic areas and national parks "off limits to large-scale applications".

He said: "It is essential that we strike the right balance between harnessing our fantastic wind resource and protecting Scotland's most valued landscapes.

"We need to remember that the onshore wind sector supports thousands of jobs, has attracted billions of pounds of investment and generates enough carbon-free electricity to meet the equivalent of almost a third of Scotland's needs. It is also the cheapest form of renewable energy that can be built at the scale we need.

"The Scottish Government needs to ensure the new planning framework does not rule out good quality proposals out with national scenic areas and national parks, and we reaffirm our view that new developments are best judged on a case-by-case basis.

"It would be in nobody's interest for Scotland to lose out on the important environmental, economic and social opportunities that are created by the onshore wind sector."

Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said the measures do not go far enough in relation to wind farms.

"Public opposition to wind turbines in areas of high scenic value has been growing and that has forced the Scottish Government to respond with this announcement," he said.

"These measures will afford a greater degree of protection than currently exists but wind farms will still be possible on wild lands.

"We need a complete overhaul of planning policy for wind power to ensure that decisions are taken at a local level.

"It's critical that areas of natural beauty are protected, but the problem goes far beyond that."

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