Balancing Energy Needs with Landscape Protection: Recent Decisions by Welsh and Scottish Ministers

Two recent decisions by Welsh and Scottish Ministers have shown how differently the devolved nations are choosing to balance Energy Needs with Landscape Protection.  Michelle Bolger provided expert landscape evidence on behalf of local groups for both inquiries and at both inquiries the Inspectors in their reports to government, agreed that the developments would result in significant landscape harm. 

For the Scottish appeal at West Garty the Minister accepted that this was sufficient to outweigh the benefits of renewable energy.  For the Welsh appeal, despite significant landscape harm and significant harm to a series of Scheduled Ancient Monuments the Minister concluded that it was all outweighed by the benefits of renewable energy.

West Garty Wind Farm

The first inquiry concerned an application for 17 wind turbines (110m max tip height) on a series of upland ridges between the settlements of Brora and Helmsdale. The site was within a Special Landscape Area in the Highlands. The application was determined by Scottish Minister as it would have generated over 50 megawatts (MW).

Karen Heywood, the Reporter who presided over the inquiry agreed with our evidence and found that ‘the proposed development does not comply with the development plan due to its significant detrimental landscape and visual impacts’ and ‘national planning policy does not support the scheme because is not the right development in the right place’ (7.10).

The Scottish Minister adopted the reasoning and conclusions of the Reporter’s findings and refused the application. In this case, the cost to the landscape was deemed too great despite the potential benefits of a high generating capacity.

Hendy Wind Farm

The second inquiry concerned an application for 7 wind turbines (110m max tip height) within a ‘bowl’ defined in part by the distinctive Llandegley Rocks in Powys. The site was outside of a Strategic Search Area for wind farms. In such areas TAN 8 in Welsh planning policy suggests that a balance should be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. The appeal was recovered for determination by the Welsh Minister as it involved a Development of National Significance (generating over 10 MW).

Hywel Wyn Jones, the Inspector, agreed with our evidence and found that: ‘the extent of harm to the landscape and historic assets leads me to conclude that the scheme fails to strike an appropriate balance between promoting renewable energy projects and protecting these interests as sought by national policy. It follows that, when taken together, the combined harm to landscape and heritage matters significantly outweigh the identified benefits’. (409)

However, the Welsh Minister disagreed with the Inspector and chose to allow the appeal. In this case although the potential generating capacity was much lower than West Garty, the cost of significant landscape harm was not deemed to be high enough. Primarily - as is suggested by the Minister’s decision - because that harm did not involve a nationally designated landscape: ‘I note the site does is not located within a nationally designated landscape and the proposal would not impact on any national landscape designation. In this context, I consider the benefits of the proposal in terms of delivering renewable energy are material considerations which are sufficient to outweigh the identified impacts of the scheme on landscape and visual amenity and the balance, therefore, weighs in favour of the appeal’ (63 and 64). 

It is also notable that the Inspector concluded that the development would cause significant (and in one case substantial) harm to the significance of four Scheduled Ancient Monuments but the Minister concluded that “in this case, the need for development which produces renewable energy outweighs” all the identified harm.

 An visualisation prepared by MBELC of part of the Hendy Wind Farm

An visualisation prepared by MBELC of part of the Hendy Wind Farm