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Disappointment at Shepherd's Rig windfarm decision reversal

Tuesday 22nd August 2023, 1:38pm

Mountaineering Scotland is disappointed in the decision by the Scottish Government to grant planning permission for the Shepherd’s Rig windfarm near Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, in Dumfries and Galloway. This development will undoubtedly have an impact on the experience of walking in the Galloway hills, as the earlier Public Inquiry clearly identified.

We have consistently sought to preserve the views of the wild mountain core of the Galloway Hills, from the Merrick to the Rhinns of Kells and along the Glenkens to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn, and to preserve the integrity of the upper Glenkens basin as a distinct area with turbines only on the periphery. 

It is important to note that this project was tested at Public Local Inquiry, in which Mountaineering Scotland participated, after which it was refused planning permission, but has now been approved as a direct result of the Scottish Government’s change in policy, through the recently approved National Planning Framework 4 and the Onshore Wind Policy Statement.  This has completely altered the planning policy landscape for windfarms.

As a result of the policy changes, we are seeing increasing numbers of new and resubmitted onshore windfarm applications coming in with little in the way of protection for landscape out with the National Parks and National Scenic Areas.

Mountaineering Scotland’s CEO Stuart Younie said “ We recognise the need to deliver energy security for the people of Scotland and to move to renewable production as part of a commitment to tackling the climate crisis. Our concern is that approval of this project in the last turbine-free part of the Galloway Hills will be the first of many more onshore wind projects that will be supported under the new Scottish Government planning policy, despite objections being submitted through the local planning process.

“Under the new policy framework renewable energy companies will be looking forward to generating big profits at the expense of our world class landscape and we should all be very concerned about what our country is going to look like over the next 10 – 20 years and the potential impact this new policy will have on some of our wild and most beautiful areas.”

It appears that the assessment of the Shepherd’s Rig development based on the detailed evidence supplied in the Public Local Inquiry on impact to the landscape has not changed - it is Scottish Government policy landscape that has changed, and with it, a change in the value of Scotland’s landscapes.

The Public Inquiry decision letter states: “In our original report, we found that the significant effects on the area’s recreational resources should be given significant weight, to the extent that they outweighed the aims of delivering renewable energy. In the updated policy context, we find that the proposal’s obvious contribution to renewable energy targets causes the benefits as a whole to now clearly outweigh the significant landscape and visual effects.”

If there was not a continuing requirement for planning decisions to balance the potential benefits and site-specific harms, there would be no need for windfarms to go through the planning system at all except to agree planning conditions.

Our focus is on Scotland’s mountain landscapes and we have a genuine concern over what protections now exist to protect our landscapes and for how long will people be able to continue to enjoy the wild qualities of Scotland’s mountains.

Photo: Cairnsmore of Carsphairn from Cairnsgarroch in the Rhinns of Kells / Credit: Scothill, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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