Locational Considerations for Wind Farms
19. Planning authorities should use the development plan process to consider an area's potential for accommodating all forms of renewable energy technologies. This assessment should recognise and complement other local policy priorities and objectives. The suitability of local landscapes will be dependent on the scale and type of project proposed. When identifying broad areas of search where wind farm proposals are likely to be considered appropriate, planning authorities should take account of the locational considerations set out in paragraphs 20 to 35.
20. The Executive is committed to safeguarding and, where possible, enhancing Scotland's natural heritage. NPPG 14: Natural Heritage sets out the policy on how to assess development proposals showing due concern for the natural heritage. Guidance is provided on the approach to be adopted in relation to protecting those aspects of the natural heritage which are of international and national importance and the wider natural heritage. Further advice is given in Planning Advice Note 60: Planning for Natural Heritage. Following the passage of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, all public bodies now have a biodiversity duty which includes having special regard for those species and habitats on the Scottish Biodiversity List.
21. A primary role of the planning system is to guide development to appropriate locations. Scotland has considerable renewables potential and planning authorities should seek to facilitate the meeting of national targets away from areas where development would conflict with the policies set out in NPPG 14 if it is likely that unacceptable impacts on such interests cannot be satisfactorily mitigated. Areas designated for their international and national natural heritage value are identified at Annex A. Planning authorities may also, with appropriate justification, identify and protect other areas designated for their local natural heritage value. While these areas may be important locally, the level of protection is not as high as that afforded to internationally or nationally designated sites. In applying renewable energy policies to local designations, planning authorities should ensure that policies avoid unreasonable restrictions on the ability of an area to contribute to national targets.
22. Planning authorities should not impose additional zones of protection around areas designated for their landscape value. However, the potential impact of proposals on such areas may be a material consideration to be taken into account when determining planning applications. Such impacts should be considered as part of the planning application process.
23. The Executive is also committed to safeguarding and, where appropriate, enhancing Scotland's historic environment .NPPG 5: Archaeology and Planning and NPPG 18: Planning and the Historic Environment set out national planning policies for the appropriate protection of scheduled monuments and other archaeological sites and their settings, World Heritage sites, listed buildings and their settings, gardens and designed landscapes and conservation areas. Together they provide guidance on the relative weight which attaches to the protection of different types and categories of site from international to local in accordance with the particular requirements of heritage legislation. PAN 42: Archaeology and the Scheduled Monument Procedures provides more detailed advice on those specific issues. Development plan policies should set out the criteria for protecting, conserving and enhancing the historic environment.
24. Wind farm developments should only be permitted if they are compatible with the roles and functions of green belts as set out in SPP 21: Green Belts. Where a proposed use would not normally be consistent with green belt designation, it may still be considered appropriate in exceptional circumstances, either as a national priority or to meet an established need, and only if no other suitable site is available.
Tourism and recreational interests
25. Tourism is an important element in the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Scotland. Sustainable tourism supports many small businesses and remote rural and island communities and it is the beauty of our landscape which draws many of our visitors. There is as yet no conclusive evidence about the impact of wind farm development on tourism - while some people express concerns about the effects of wind farms on the landscape, others see them as attractive additions to the landscape that provide visible evidence of our commitment to sustainable development. Areas which have been designated for their scenic importance (such as National Parks and National Scenic Areas) are covered by other policies in this SPP. When considering development plan policies, the balance between renewable energy requirements and the impact on tourism will therefore need to be carefully assessed, and to assist with this process the Scottish Executive is undertaking further research on the impact of wind farms on tourism, which will be published later this year. The findings will be reflected in the final version of the SPP.
Aviation and defence interests
26. Development plan policies must take account of possible adverse effects on airport operation, flight activity, aviation and defence radar and seismological recording. SEDD Circular 2/2003: Safeguarding of Aerodromes, Technical Sites and Military Explosive Storage Areas sets out the formal consultation procedures that are in place to ensure that air and defence interests are properly safeguarded. Wind Energy and Aviation Interests: Interim Guidelines have also been prepared jointly by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence, the Civil Aviation Authority and the British Wind Energy Association to ensure that all those involved in renewable energy and aviation have a better understanding of issues of mutual interest. The guidelines also provide relevant contact details. The Executive will shortly introduce formal procedures for ensuring that the Ministry of Defence is consulted on planning applications for most wind turbines, including variation to permissions but excluding micro-renewables. These arrangements will be confirmed in the finalised SPP.
27. Whilst development plan policies can take account of these constraints, policies should recognise that their existence need not inhibit development and it can be possible for developers to bring forward proposals that address potential impacts. The existence of such constraints should not therefore be used to restrict development unless aviation and defence authorities indicate that individual proposals raise concerns that will be insurmountable. The relevant bodies should be consulted when preparing development plan policies.
28. When preparing development plans, planning authorities may judge that zones around communities should be introduced as a mechanism to steer developments to sites where impacts on local communities are likely to be considered acceptable. If doing so, planning authorities should take account of local topography and ensure that distances do not impose unreasonable restrictions on development. Any such zone will also need to recognise the differing scale and impacts of renewable energy developments and should not prevent small scale developments close to, or within, communities, including those in an urban setting. As a general rule, the Scottish Ministers would support a separation distance of 1.5 km between the edge of a town or village and large-scale wind farm developments so long as policies recognise that specific proposals may still be acceptable within specified distances if sited and designed so as to avoid unacceptable impacts on communities.
Consultation question: The Scottish Executive is minded to specify in the finalised policy that "large-scale wind farms" in this context are all wind farm developments over 20 megawatts. Views are sought on whether this is the most appropriate level and what distance from communities would be acceptable for spatial policies in development plans.
29. Development plan policies should recognise the impact of existing developments on the landscape of an area and the extent to which development may become a significant or defining characteristic of the landscape. Cumulative effects may arise where two or more developments are visible from the same point, or are visible shortly after each other along the same journey. However, the fact that one development might be seen from another need not in itself be a reason to regard the cumulative effect as unacceptable.
30. Cumulative effects requiring consideration may also include those on habitats, where several windfarms impact on similar habitats, or on species, where several windfarms individually may impact upon the same regional species population.
31. Scottish Natural Heritage has issued guidance which sets out general principles on how to assess the cumulative effects of wind farms. This guidance should be taken into account by planning authorities when reaching a view on the capacity of particular locations in their areas for future development. Authorities may preclude further development in particular areas if it is likely that this would lead to unacceptable cumulative impacts which could not be adequately mitigated.
32 The process of identifying broad areas of search should also take account of an area's potential to accommodate a viable wind farm project. Through the development planning process, planning authorities should consider, in consultation with the wind farm industry, issues such as wind speed, access, ground suitability and economic viability. Planning authorities should in turn seek to ensure that any broad areas of search have the potential to be developed within the period covered by the development plan.
33. The provision of adequate infrastructure is required to ensure the effective transfer of electricity from generating source to markets. Upgrade of the electricity grid is likely if Scotland is to realise fully its renewable energy potential. Decisions on investment in new infrastructure are a matter for the relevant transmission owners, Scottish Hydro-Electric Transmission Ltd ( SHETL) and Scottish Power Transmission Limited ( SPTL), in tandem with the system operator (National Grid Company) and the industry regulator (Ofgem).
34. Planning authorities should take account of grid capacity when identifying broad areas of search including the potential of areas to accommodate wind farms where there is not yet grid capacity. An important part of this process should be to consider how best to make best use of existing and planned grid capacity (see paragraph 35). Views should also be sought from transmission owners on the feasibility of building new or upgraded grid capacity in the area and how such capacity can best be accommodated in line with the responsibility of transmission owners to minimise environmental impacts when considering the need for new grid infrastructure. This should better enable development to be guided to locations that minimise the secondary environmental impacts associated with grid connections, including those within other local authority boundaries, whilst enabling those authorities, such as the Islands Councils, with limited grid capacity to plan effectively for the future. Further information on grid is given in paragraph 43.
35. Given Scottish Ministers' commitment to the 2020 renewables energy target, planning authorities should give full consideration to developments that can be accommodated within existing and planned grid upgrades (see paragraph 43). In this way, the Executive hopes to facilitate the early achievement of its 2020 target. This approach should not preclude consideration of further potential grid upgrades where these could provide a contribution in excess of the 6 GW target. The Scottish Executive has commissioned a study into the interaction of renewable generation with the electricity grid. This study should help better inform the setting of further such targets beyond those set for 2020.