Economic impacts of wind farms on Scottish tourism: report

Report commissioned by Glasgow Caledonian University to assess whether government priorities for wind farms in Scotland are likely to have an economic impact on Scottish tourism.

13 Planning and other issues

13.1 The positive impact of wind farms on tourism

In chapter 2 the literature review indicated that wind farms can have a positive impact on tourism that could possibly, for a few individual farms, even exceed the specific negative aspects of that farm. In Scotland the success of "open days" confirms public interest. The positive effect of increased likelihood of return given current levels of access is taken into account in the intercept survey, albeit with a possible slight downward bias as a result of the upper bound of certainty (which could result in increased frequency) . Increasing levels of access could increase the positive impact further.

The most obvious developments are information centres that offer an inexpensive wet weather destination to the holiday tourist. In addition large wind farms offer an extensive car free road network in the hills often with extensive views over the area. The Land Reform Act suggests such areas should be available to walkers and cyclists and could well be a tourist asset if properly promoted.

This report has not attempted to identify these potentially positive aspects, in part because the substitution effects are so substantial; if the tourist did not go to the wind farm they would go somewhere else instead. However this analysis if applied to any tourist attraction be it a bird sanctuary, a castle or a theme park, would suggest minimal economic impact. But the number, range and quality of attractions available in an area do have an impact and in complementing that package a wind farm centre might have an effect significantly greater than implied by a conventional impact analysis. Such an analysis would be of considerable interest.

As discussed in section 13.2 the number of local jobs generated is small and it would seem sensible for developers, as a matter of policy, to examine opportunities to utilise wind farms as tourist attractions to counter potential losses.

13.2 The direct impact of Wind Farms on the local economy

SRF (2007) 18 published a detailed report on the direct impact of the renewable industry in Scotland. Table 13-1 gives the direct jobs associated with the development and operations of wind turbines.

Table 13-1 Direct Jobs in the production of wind energy



Project Development to Final Consent



Consultancy, Energy Services, R&D



Manufacture, Engineering, Fabrication, Assembly



Construction & Haulage



Operations & Maintenance






Whilst the total number of jobs substantially exceeds those lost in tourism, as can be seen from the table the vast majority of these are not local or in operations. Unless the industry continues to expand either at home or through exports, then in the long term, these numbers might be expected to contract. On the other hand engineering has high value added and we should expect significant indirect and induced effects that suggest a larger long term local effect greater than the 66 operations and maintenance jobs identified.

13.3 Tourism and planning

Scottish Planning Policy ( SPP) 6, Renewable Energy, highlights tourism and recreational interests as a matter for consideration in developing policy and in determining applications for renewable energy developments. Planning authorities are however able to interpret national policy so that it is relevant to the circumstances of their own area and, if tourism is considered as a stand alone policy area, to avoid repetition, it may not be explicitly referenced as part of the renewable energy policy. Where there is a separate policy, it is recognition of the importance of the issue to that area as a whole and consequently one that must be considered in relation to any development.

As an example Argyll and Bute has both a significant number of wind farms and an important tourism industry. In its section on Renewable Energy it states:

"Proposals shall be supported where it can be demonstrated there is no significant adverse effect on

  • Local communities
  • Natural Environment
  • Landscape character and visual amenity
  • Historic environment
  • Telecommunications" Argyll(2002) 19

However whilst tourist policy in Argyll simply discusses the potential of the area for increased environment based tourism; particularly water based and seems totally oblivious to any threats that might exist, in practice in the planning reports the position of tourism is explicitly considered. For example in the Planning Application Report for the Stacain Wind Farm in Argyll (Argyll 2007 20) the planner discusses in some detail the impact in eleven areas one of which is tourism and recreation. This section of the report is worth quoting.

k) Tourism and Recreation

As this report shows estimation of impact is not an easy matter. Tourism impact, as one aspect of economic development, should be covered by policy and could be an issue which would warrant refusal if regarded as significant enough. An example of rejection on such grounds has not, however, been identified. What is more usual, as in this case, is a recommendation to reject because of significant scenic impact. In this case the development contradicted national policy guidance NPPG6, NPPG15 and local policies RUR1 and WF1. In addition, almost inevitably, rejection was recommended because of the potential impact on the birdlife, in this case the golden eagle and the hen harrier, being contrary to Structure Plan Policy STARTDC 7 and NPPG 14, Natural Heritage. The area committee, however, rejected the recommendation and on 27/11/07 voted 6-2 to approve the development.

This research suggests that some developments along the A74 and A9, which have passed all the usual tests and have been granted consent, may have an adverse effect on tourism. Table 13.1 provides a list of current statutory consultees for the Stacain development.

Table 13.1 Example of Statutory Consultees


Consultee Response


Area Roads Engineer


No objections

Scottish Environmental Protection Agency


Requires 3 months to be addressed prior to determination

Scottish Water


No objections subject to conditions

Public Protection Unit


No objections subject to conditions

Defence Estates


Health and Safety Executive


No comments

Scottish Executive Trunk Roads Authority


No comments on the Environmental Statement

Historic Scotland


No comments

Forest Commission


No objections

It might be argued that there should also be a statutory requirement to consult a tourist agency such as VisitScotland. Given the findings of this report however on the likely size of the effects and given the need to not further encumber the planning system we would suggest that where tourism is an important part of the local economy councils be recommended to seek the advice of local tourist agencies.

In our view councils, when assessing the economic impact of a development on the local economy and tourism, should take into account the following:

  • The number of tourists travelling past on route to elsewhere,
  • The views from tourist accommodation in the area,
  • The relative scale of tourism impact i.e. local to national
  • The potential positives i.e. information provision
  • The views of tourist bodies i.e. local tourist board or VisitScotland.
  • Outdoor Activity in the area of the development

This is effectively a guide to planning authorities of what to consider under the issue of 'tourism impact' and could be helped by the production from the developer of a Tourist Impact Statement.

13.4 Tourist impact statements

Tourist Impact Statements are statements by developers of the likely impacts of the development on the local tourist industry and the methods that can be used to minimise any costs (e.g by screening) and maximise any benefits (e.g. access arrangements). The length of such statements will inevitably be dependent upon the importance of tourism in the local area. Developments along major tourist routes, on nationally recognised walking/cycling or horse riding routes, in or close to recognised scenic areas or adjacent to holiday destinations will inevitably warrant more attention than those with little tourist contact. They are already a recognised if informal part of the planning process in a number of authorities and it is our belief that, because of the importance of tourism to Scotland, it could usefully become a normal part of the environmental impact analysis wherever tourism may have a major role.

At its core would be the information to be considered by the council

  • The number of tourists travelling past on route to elsewhere,
  • The views from tourist accommodation in the area,
  • The relative scale of tourism impact i.e. local to national
  • The potential positives i.e. information provision
  • Outdoor Activity in the area of the development

It is believed that such statements should be made freely available for comment to local community groups as soon as possible, to ensure that the information is accurate and to enable a "buy-in" by the local community to the development.

13.5 Size and continuity

Current guidance refers at some length to the cumulative impact of a number of neighbouring developments. PAN 45 21 paragraph 79 states that "Different layouts will be appropriate in different circumstances. For example, grouped turbines can normally appear acceptable as a single, isolated feature in an open, undeveloped landscape, while rows of turbines may be more appropriate in an agricultural landscape with formal field boundaries." It does not identify a maximum size and accepts that extending wind farms may be acceptable and cost-effective.

The PAN also identifies that the current geographic distribution of wind farm proposals in Scotland is due to

  • the distribution of the viable wind resource;
  • technical and economic constraints to the viability of exploiting different wind speeds;
  • electricity grid access constraints;
  • protected areas;
  • planning policy.

As a result developments have been focused in a relatively limited number of areas.

The Pan then suggests that in assessing cumulative effects, it is unreasonable to expect this to extend beyond schemes in the vicinity that have been built, those which have permissions and those that are currently the subject of undetermined applications.

An example of the application of the guidance on cumulative impacts is the Kyle Wind Farm Proposal, Cumulative Landscape and Visual Assessment ( AMEC, 2004) 22. The key to the analysis is the assessment of the number of farms in sight at a number of different locations.

The research in this report suggests that from a tourism perspective:

  • Having a number of wind farms in sight at any point in time is undesirable from the point of view of the tourism industry
  • The loss of value when moving from medium to large developments is not as great as the initial loss. It is the basic intrusion into the landscape that generates the loss.

These suggest that to minimise negative tourist impact, a very large single developments are preferable to a number of smaller developments, particularly when they occur in the same general area.

13.6 The 'polluter pays' principle

This and other research has shown that wind farm developments cause loss of value to individuals and the public at large. This loss of value relates both to short term disturbance during construction (transport congestion, noise, dirt) and to long term loss of "clear" landscapes. The literature review and the internet study have shown a clear preference for such landscapes. In recognition of the social cost of the development to local communities, developers have often voluntarily lent support to community projects such as village halls.

The issue of compensation for individuals (and its calculation) is not part of the remit of this project and the size of the loss suggested in this research is, in most cases, so small that none would be expected. However there seems no reason to suppose that the compensation principles developed around environmental degradation due to airports, rail links or new roads could not be covered by Section 75 agreements for communities or the very few individuals who suffer significant loss due to any harm to tourism.

Finally it is believed that the loss of value (reduction in the consumer surplus) of tourists could be at least partially offset if farms were developed as free attractions along some of the lines discussed in 13.1.

13.7 Protection of Wilderness Areas

There is evidence, particularly in the literature review, that the impact of wind farms is perceived to be greater on remoter, wilder landscapes. The local economies in these areas also tend to be very fragile and tourism extremely important. SPP6 currently states that designated areas should be protected.

The evidence in this study is that most tourists are unaware of these attempts and assume wind farms are spread uniformly throughout Scotland. It may be argued that marketing should try to make a distinction between "undeveloped" wilderness areas with minimal landscape intrusion and "green" rural areas like Caithness and North East Scotland where, as in Denmark, wind farms are accepted as a positive attribute.

Scotland's National Scenic Areas and National Parks (and their buffer areas), shown in Figure 13-1 could provide an appropriate framework for protection, not only from wind farms but also from other even less desirable intrusions such as Grid Lines and Pylons. It might be argued that the protection should perhaps be offered to all areas defined as of "Great Landscape Value" provided this did not conflict with the marketing message of unspoilt wilderness.

Figure 13-1 Scotland's Scenic Areas

Figure 13-1 Scotland's Scenic Areas

Source: Scottish Executive Rural Group: Paper 2006-2 - Enhancing Our Care of Scotland's Landscapes

13.8 Conclusion

The general impression gained is that the planning system is in general working well. The research suggests

1. More guidance to planning authorities on how to assess Tourist Impact would be useful

2. In some cases a Tourist Impact Statement within the Environmental Analysis drawn up by developers would be helpful

3. A few large farms would have less total negative impact on tourism than the same number of turbines in medium and small farms

4. This is different from a large number of separate farms in the same area, which is generally unpopular amongst tourists.

5. Most commentators suggest that wind farms in remote and scenic areas have a larger negative impact. Consequently there is a case for the protection of National Scenic Areas and National Parks.

6. Tourists do not recognise that scenic areas are already, in part, protected. It is probably sensible to market these areas as wild or untouched. Conversely those areas, such as Caithness, where there are/will be large numbers of farms, could be marketed as "Green", utilising the positive attitudes to wind farms of the majority of people.


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