Wednesday, April 18, 2007

VisitScotland & Windfarms

Another council has voted in favour of a wind farm despite being advised not to by their planning department. It's happened in Wester Ross at Lochluichart; the vote went 7-4 in favour of the 17-turbine development. Now having been the beneficiary of councillors voting against a wind farm that was against the advice of their planners here in the Borders over the Fallago Ridge site I know I'm skirting disaster by criticizing the Highland councillors. However, in this case there were over 2,000 objections and 800 letters of support, which means the councillors were going against the democratic view of their constituents.

The councillors were also going against their own renewable energy strategy as the site also lay in an area with a "presumption against" major wind farm development. Many of the objectors focused on the effects on tourism, which brings me to my main point. When have VisitScotland ever objected to a wind farm? They have a policy on such things and here it is.

1. VisitScotland understands and supports the drive for renewable energy and recognises the potential of Scotland’s vast resource.
2. As a consequence, VisitScotland is not against the principle of wind farm development.
3. Research carried out by an independent consultancy was inconclusive and reflected a split in visitor opinion between those strongly against wind farm development of any kind and those who said in some areas it actually enhanced what was otherwise a bleak and unattractive landscape.
4. However, VisitScotland is becoming increasingly concerned over the proliferation of speculative development proposals, many of them in areas of high landscape or scenic value or in locations which directly impact on tourism operations or activity.
5. The local area network offices, of which there are 14 located throughout Scotland, are aware of this concern and are keeping a close eye on development proposals affecting their local areas.
6. In cases where it is clear that in VisitScotland’s opinion tourism will be affected in a negative manner, representations will be made through the formal planning process. VisitScotland will, however, not get involved in open public debate in the media prior to applications being formally submitted. In cases which may be particularly contentious, Area Directors have been encouraged to seek a wider tourism perspective. Here, they are able to take on board the views of their Area Tourism Partnership which comprises a wide cross section of local private and public sector tourism interests.
7. Ultimately, it is for the local planning authority (or in extreme cases referred to the Scottish Executive Minister) to make the final decision as to whether or not a development proposal is approved.

This process, controlled as it is by locally elected councillors, will reflect both local needs and aspirations and take into account those concerns of nature conservation and tourism interests.

They say that their research was inconclusive on the effects on tourism, yet, a quarter of visitors say they will not return to an area where they feel a wind farm has been insensitively sited and where it detracts from the scenery which has been the major reason for their visit." Clearly a statement that applies to the Wester Ross site.

I'm going to find out whether they objected.

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