Scot Gov wind farm appeals interventions ‘risk to democracy’, MSP claims

Jamie Halcro Johnston, Highlands and Islands MSP.
Jamie Halcro Johnston, Highlands and Islands MSP.

The Scottish Government’s influence over rural planning issues has been attacked after a local decision to reject two Orkney wind farms was overturned in Edinburgh.

Highlands and Islands MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston yesterday warned that local democracy risked being left “in tatters” after the Scottish Government’s planning and appeals division gave the renewable projects the go-ahead last week.

The government took the decision to give permission to the applications made by Hoolan Energy despite them being knocked back by Orkney Council’s planning committee last September.

The proposal outlined in the two applications is for nine large turbines across the Orkney mainland.

Dismayed local councillors claimed that the government appeared not to have much faith in the local planning system after it reversed the original decision.

Mr Halcro Johnston also cited the Scottish Government’s decision to grant permission for 22 homes in Hopeman, Moray, last year.

The government took the step despite Moray Council originally throwing out the original planning application following objections from locals.

“Those of us who live in the Highlands and Islands care passionately about our communities. Yet, time and time again, those communities are seeing locally-made decisions on key issues like planning overturned by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh,” the Tory MSP said.

“That is leaving the confidence of local communities in their ability to influence crucial decisions – decisions which affect them – being repeatedly undermined by Scottish

Government officials who know little, and care even less, about the impact of their decisions.

“The only factor those officials seem to take into account is the need to slavishly follow what they understand to be SNP national policy and to desperately meet SNP-driven targets.

“What is the point of local officials and councillors bothering to scrutinise applications, consult local stakeholders and work with local communities if the decision they come to risks being ridden roughshod over by the SNP Government in Edinburgh?”

He added: “As far as many of those councillors, council officers and local people I have spoken to are concerned, the SNP’s autocratic and centralised approach risks leaving local democracy in tatters.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish Ministers are committed to seeing the right developments in the right place. We have clear policies in place to ensure wind farms are developed in appropriate locations, and Scottish planning policy now provides additional protection for both our national parks and national scenic areas.

“Since May 2007 more than half the appeals related to wind farms developments have been refused.”