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Communities in 'David and Goliath situation' over onshore wind, says Caithness councillor


By Alan Hendry

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Councillor Matthew Reiss claims that communities are considered 'utterly insignificant in a centralised and profoundly undemocratic planning system'. Picture: Alison Reiss
Councillor Matthew Reiss claims that communities are considered 'utterly insignificant in a centralised and profoundly undemocratic planning system'. Picture: Alison Reiss

Communities that resist onshore wind farms find themselves in a "David and Goliath situation" and are let down by a planning system that is murky and undemocratic, a Caithness councillor has claimed.

Councillor Matthew Reiss argues that too often local people are left feeling helpless in the face of "gigantic spinning industrial structures imposed on our gentle, low-lying, historic landscapes".

And he says future generations will look back at the impact of Scotland's onshore wind development on landscapes, residents and the natural environment and consider it a "scandal".

His comments are made in a submission supporting a petition that calls on the Scottish Government to give communities a greater say over planning decisions relating to onshore wind.

The public petition was lodged by Scotland Against Spin (SAS), which wants powers to be given to local authorities and communities so they can make their own decisions on wind farm applications “and not have them overridden by Scottish ministers”.

In order to have the petition heard before the Scottish Parliament's summer recess, submissions must be made by June 14.

In his submission, Councillor Reiss, an independent member for Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, makes it clear that he is "not anti-renewable energy" and suggests that the main answer lies in offshore wind.

He highlights local population decline and notes that Caithness "probably has more renewable energy developments in our uniquely flat and once unspoilt landscape than anywhere in Scotland".

He says: "As a former police officer, fairness, transparency and democracy are precious to me. My seven years of 'investigation' have led me to conclude that the reality is that local communities are utterly insignificant in a centralised and profoundly undemocratic planning system.

"I am no longer surprised when they run out of hard-won voluntary funding or simply 'give up'."

He predicts that students in the next century "will look back on what is currently happening to our landscapes, people and natural environment and study how this scandal was allowed to take place, with the full blessing of the state".

Councillor Reiss says tourists visit the far north because of the peacefulness, big skies and nature but "too many onshore wind farms will destroy this attractiveness". He insists that the "oft-touted jobs bonanza" from onshore wind has not been evident in Caithness.

He believes that a better system exists south of the border where parish councils "have substantial powers".

He goes on: "The terminology used throughout official papers is daunting for 'ordinary' people – so much so there is a necessity to seek professional help. This is very expensive. Applicants routinely use well-paid QCs to argue their case.

"The planning system is not transparent – it is murky and hard to fathom. It is far from accessible to lay people. It is a David against Goliath situation when the winner is often not the 'Davids'.

"I am not anti-renewable energy – far from it. The main answer is actually simple – offshore wind produces more power, more reliably and without hundreds of sincere objections.

"Depopulation and a sense of simple helplessness in the face of what are literally gigantic spinning industrial structures imposed on our gentle, low-lying, historic landscapes need to be resolved."

Details of the SAS petition can be found at www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/windfarms

Submissions should be emailed to petitions@parliament.scot by June 14.

The Scottish Government has said it is "committed to providing clean, green energy from the right developments in the right place, through a planning system which ensures local communities have their say, and all applications for wind farm developments are subject to consultation with the public and statutory and local bodies".


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