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Planning Controversies – Local versus National

Planning Controversies – Local versus National

Planning matters are generally decided by the local planning authority, particularly in the case of small-scale developments.  Appeals for such cases would go to a committee of 3 or more local elected officials.  But Scottish ministers can intervene in local matters where an issue of ‘genuine national interest’ may be at stake. 

          The Scottish government has overturned nearly half of local planning decision appeals since 2017 (379 out of 816 appeals).  Last year it was slightly over half at 56%.  One high-profile decision in December 2021 allowed Judy Murray’s appeal to build a £40 million tennis and golf complex at Dunblane, where the Scottish government overruled Stirling Council’s rejection of the plans despite 1000 local objections being lodged over the loss of woodland.  The government ruled that increased local participation in sports, local facilities and economic benefits outweighed the loss of greenbelt land.

Sallachy Windfarm approved

            Plans for a wind turbine farm at Loch Shin have been approved recently by Highland Council (‘Concerns as German firm given green light to build new windfarm’, Sandra Dick, The Herald, 15/05/22), despite warnings about ‘significant adverse effect’ at the site within one of Scotland’s 42 designated wild land areas, natural, remote and rugged. 

            Highland Council’s North Planning Applications Committee unanimously passed an application from German energy company WKN GmbH for nine turbines on the Sallachy estate, a German-owned private sporting and fishing estate of 10,500 hectares on Loch Shin.  As well as the enormous turbines, this development will gouge ugly tracks and roads for HGVs and heavy machinery from the pristine landscape.

            NatureScot have warned of the significant adverse effect on the overall integrity of the Assynt-Coigach area, particularly the Reay-Cassley wild land area at the lower end of Loch Shin.

            RSPB warned of concern over a pair of newly arrived white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, black grouse and golden plover, and even Mountaineering Scotland are not pleased, saying it will impact visually on the mountains and wild land and may affect tourism.

            The John Muir Trust is dismayed at the decision and is calling for a meeting with Highland Council to discuss the decision. The Trust is concerned this approval will make the area a target for further applications, with Iain Milligan, spokesman for campaigning group Save Our Hills worried that Highland Council’s approval will lead to them approving other new windfarms in the vast area they control.  He understands the wish of the community to benefit financially but feels they may eventually get limited benefits.  North West Communities and Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust on the other hand see significant economic opportunities for the community.

            In local consultations, some felt the community benefits outweighed

ecological concerns, in a situation where local communities sometimes see little in the way of financial benefits from renewable energy.  This windfarm will give the community £5000 per MW per annum, up to 10% community group shared ownership, and a 5% price advantage for local companies tendering for jobs on the windfarm. 

            Of the local community councils, Ardgay Durness, Lairg and Scourie were in favour, with only Rogart council concerned over the 560% increase in HGV traffic which will result.  Objections and support came from as far away as Cumbria and even Westminster, with 123 objections  lodged, and 189 statements of support, but the actual council planning meeting consisted of a planning official’s presentation only, plus a few mostly supportive comments.

            This is the second application relating to the same area by the same developer.  A 2015 application for 22 slightly smaller wind turbines was refused by Scottish ministers on the grounds of visual impact.  The new application for 49.9 MW was just 0.1MW below the 50 MW threshold which would have required referral for Scottish government approval.

Flamingo Land Re-application

            A second attempt is being made for a development at Loch Lomond, following the withdrawal of the £40m Lomond Banks project in 2019 after 55,000 objections. Flamingo Land are now seeking planning approval ‘in

principle’ to be followed with detailed plans only if successful.  Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority will be considering the application, which abandons the plan to build lodges and reception buildings within Drumkinnon Wood while still retaining Woodbank House, to be converted to up to 15 self-catering apartments.  Ross Greer of the Greens says the accommodation capacity of the new planning application is virtually the same as the last one and still opposes the development on the grounds that it will put huge pressure on roads and local residents. 

Menie Links, Aberdeenshire

              And who can forget the furore over the Trump golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire?  In 2008 the Scottish government approved the Menie Golf Resort application following the recommendation of three Independent Reporters who said that the economic and social benefits justified the adverse environmental impacts.

            Trump’s first golf course was built in 2012, and there are now plans approved for a second nearby.  But along the way, the Menie section of Foveran Links mobile sand dune system has been stripped of its status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest by NatureScot (successors to Scottish Natural Heritage) due to irreparable damage which Scottish Natural Heritage claimed was caused by the golf course.  The undamaged part will now merge with other SSSIs. 

            It seems the original objections may have been valid after all.  In this and other cases, it appears the Scottish government are not overly concerned about the opinions of the local people who will have to live with their decisions.


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