Chris Townsend slams reluctance to implement Wild Land Policy

Mountaineer and writer Chris Townsend has joined campaigners against a wind farm in the Monadhliath Mountains to call on the Scottish Government to stay true on its word to protect wild land.

Chris Townsend

Chris Townsend

Supporters of Save The Monadhliath Mountains (SMM), a broad based coalition of mountaineers, hill-walkers, conservationists, tourism businesses, ornithologists and local communities, are opposed to the building of the wind farm at Allt Duine, located wholly in Wild Land, partly in the National Park and next to the National Scenic Area in the Highlands. SMM says that Ministers are allowing the developers behind the project, RWE, to spin matters out even further through preparing a Wild Land impact assessment for the project.

The scheme, currently being considered by the Government, would involve 31 turbines, each at a height of 125 metres being built in the mountains at Allt Duine. SMM campaigners strongly believe that the development is completely contrary to national and local planning policy as it would have a significant adverse impact on Wild land and on the landscape, character and fabric of the Park.

The Scottish Government had consulted on a new planning policy for Scotland, which appeared to signal that a map of wild land areas would be linked to policy outcomes for the first time.

However, shortly before the conclusion of this consultation and the announcement of the new policy in June 2014, the Government granted consent to the building of 67 wind turbines at Stronelairg, also in the Monadhliath Mountains, despite a national interest objection in principle from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and an objection from the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The public opposed the development by 15 to 1. These objections, views and advice were ignored, and the plans accepted by Ministers without a Public Local Inquiry.

Following the conclusion of the consultation and the publication of the National Planning Framework 3, the Scottish Planning Policy 2, and the SNH Wild Land Areas Map, the Scottish Government pledged “strengthened” protection for Wild Land in new national planning policies. Solely because the Stronelairg development had been consented, the area around the site did not feature on the Wild Land Areas Map. The decision is currently under legal challenge by conservation charity, the John Muir Trust.

The Allt Duine development was identified as being located within the SNH Wild Land Map areas and SNH have since stated their formal objection to the development, citing concerns with the impact on that wild land resource. However, the Scottish Government is actively allowing the developers, energy giants RWE, to prepare a further wild land impact assessment for the Allt Duine scheme, in an effort to persuade Ministers to grant consent to the wind farm. This is despite it being located wholly on Wild Land and it being two years since conclusion of the Public Inquiry.

Now four months after the Government promised “strengthened” protection for Wild Land, supporters of the SMM campaign are calling on the Government to show Scotland that its promise still carries some meaning by refusing permission for Allt Duine.

Chris Townsend said: “The Scottish Ministers have promised to strengthen the status and protection of Wild Land in policy, and have spent a lot of time and money on devising this policy and in updating the mapping of Wild Land. However, all we have seen since is a very worrying reluctance on the part of the Government to actually implement their own policy.

Allt Duine hills - © Chris Townsend

Allt Duine hills – © Chris Townsend

“The decision to grant permission to Stronelairg was rushed through against expert advice and before the public could have their say. Now they seem desperate to do anything to spin out the Allt Duine case presumably in the hope of wearing down the opposition or hoping that it will just go away.

“All this leads us to suspect whether the Government’s policy on Wild Land is all just political spin designed to hold off campaigners against ludicrous proposals until they are eventually granted permission. The project was assessed comprehensively at a Public Inquiry that ended some two years ago. What we are seeing here is a complete abuse of the planning process by Ministers seemingly all too keen to play into the hands of powerful energy developers.

“We have heard enough words from the Government, now we want to see action. Turning down the Allt Duine development would be a strong signal to Scotland that they take their pledge to protect our cherished Wild Land seriously.

“RWE’s proposed wild land impact assessment is futile. It is simply not possible to sufficiently mitigate the effects of a 31 turbine wind farm on Wild Land at the edge of the Cairngorms. If built, the scheme would be visible from about 100 square miles of the National Park. This is an unacceptable impact on our Wild Land.”

Helen McDade, Head of Policy at the John Muir Trust, said: “It is of huge concern that the Scottish Government seems to be at sixes and sevens. The new planning policy makes it quite clear that the Wild Land Areas (WLAs), as mapped by Scottish Natural Heritage, must be afforded significant protection and yet developers are continuing to argue about whether areas within that WLA can be called wild land. The Government needs to show leadership and refuse this application without further ado.”

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