Cumulative landscape and visual assessment of wind energy in Caithness
13th May 2014
Members of The Highland Council’s Planning, Development and Infrastructure Committee will be updated on the draft findings of recent research into the cumulative effect of wind energy developments in Caithness at their meeting on Wednesday (14 May 2014). This follows The Highland Council’s successful joint bid with Argyll and Bute Council for Scottish Government funding to undertake such studies in parts of the two council areas.
The assessment has been undertaken by LUC who are seen as experts in landscape and visual assessment. Planning officers are asking the Committee to note the draft findings of this technical study and to agree further work that will be needed to finalise the report and consider the implications for future planning decisions. This includes packaging together relevant information from the study, together with existing guidance, to provide advice on where new wind energy developments might be acceptable. Also the draft findings will be checked in the light of recent wind energy proposals and decisions in the area.
Once the report for Caithness is complete it will be brought back to Committee in the autumn, together with proposals for how the Council’s wind energy guidance can be revised to take account of it. This will bring the research outputs together with other planning considerations for wind energy development, such as natural habitats and species, noise and aviation. A new version of Scottish Planning Policy is due in June which will refresh how councils should plan for wind energy and will be important to how the Council revises its guidance.
The research for Caithness requires some further work before the final version can then be used in the planning process. However, reaching the stage of draft findings is a key step forward. What LUC’s assessment will do is help the Council to guide future development towards or away from certain areas, in order that the spread of cumulative landscape and visual effects is limited.
It is important to note that the conclusions and recommendations referred to in the report to Committee are draft findings. The study does not judge individual wind energy proposals and is not intended to be used in isolation to judge such proposals in the future. It is strategic and specific projects will still require detailed assessment; the siting and design of individual proposals will be important. Once complete, the research combined with the Council’s guidance will help developers to assess potential locations for their proposals and will help the Council to assess proposals once they are submitted.
The further report to Committee later this year will include an update for Members on progress with similar work for the Ardross area and on options for producing cumulative landscape and visual guidance for other areas of Highland, bearing in mind the limits and pressures on public resources for doing such research.