Submitted 23 March 2017
1. The North East Mountain Trust is a voluntary body (Scottish Charity SCIO 008783) which acts on behalf of its members to protect Scotland's upland and remoter coastal environments. With individual and club membership, NEMT represents around 1000 people, and it undertakes an educational function through its dissemination activities.
2. The Trust considers this consultation to be one of the more important from its perspective, since the Guidelines will (or should) play a major role in framing developer intentions and actions in relation to proposals likely to affect Wild Land Areas (WLAs), a relatively new designation which needs firm defence if it is not to be weakened under developer and other pressures, e.g. those from other policy areas.
3. The bulk of the Trust's views are presented here under the first question, with a few being presented under the second question asked in this consultation. Both sets contain a series of "General" comments, followed by "Specific" comments which relate to individual paragraphs in the consultation draft.
4.The document appears to be written for developers rather than for planning authorities, although this is not specifically stated. The experience of the Scottish Environment LINK hill tracks group is that planning authorities cannot be guaranteed to take the WLA map and its descriptions as seriously as they should. The document should be oriented towards both developers and planning authorities, and should state that it is for the use of both. It should also be understandable by lay readers who may wish to submit representations on planning proposals, which will include (or may omit) a Wild Land Area Assessment.
5. The Trust strongly agrees with Scottish Planning Policy 2014, point 200, that wild land characters "are very sensitive to any form of intrusive human activity and have little or no capacity to accept new development", and this should be re-stated in the Guidance. Certain position statements in the draft Guidance represent a weakening of (SNH) position in comparison with the SNH February 2007 Interim Guidance Note "Assessing the Impacts on Wild Land". In particular, this earlier document underscores the fragility of the edges of WLAs: "Gradual attrition at the edges of wild land should be avoided if possible. Wild land can be damaged, if not lost, through the cumulative effect of detractors around the edges reducing the central area." The earlier document is also in several respects easier to read, more descriptive, and more transparent with greater clarity of use of language.
6. If a major development (or even a minor one, in some cases) is approved in a WLA, then there is a danger that that Area can no longer be defined entirely as 'wild land' and that some or even all of that Area will have to be removed from the map. The areas covered by the map will, therefore, shrink over time. Aspects of the guidance need to be strengthened to prevent this happening. It is possible to develop a small hydro scheme in a way which would not have a significant long-term effect on 'wildness', but this is simply not the case with a wind farm (as opposed to, say, a single turbine next to a shooting lodge) where no amount of 'mitigation' will reduce the impact to a point where the area can still be considered to have wild qualities. It is of very significant concern, therefore, that the very first point in Annex 1 ("Frequently Asked Questions") includes the statement: "development in these areas (including wind farms) may be appropriate". The phrase 'including wind farms' should be removed as it is inconsistent with point 200 of Scottish Planning Policy 2014.
7. The Guidance should clearly state that larger-scale infrastructure developments wholly or partly in WLAs are bound to erode wild land qualities to the point that the area involved and its surroundings can no longer be considered to be wild land, and so such developments should not be proposed. The same applies to such developments outside WLAs where the impact on the WLA is such that its wild land attributes are significantly diminished. The 2007 interim document points out that "a detractor does not have to be within an area of wild land to affect it."
8. In para 24, it is acknowledged that mitigation of the effects of large-scale projects is impossible. As no amount of mitigation will significantly remove the impact of a wind farm on a WLA, Example 3 in Annex 2 (a wind farm partially sited in a wild land area) should be removed.
9. The draft is unclear - at least to most lay readers - as to the mutual relationships between WLA Assessment (WLAA), LVIA and EIA. The nature of these three types of assessment should be briefly described, and the circumstances in which one, two or all three should be demanded by planning authorities should be made clearer.
10. The document makes no mention of increased "activity" within the WLA or "study area" as a result of the development: this would usually be more walkers and cyclists (especially if a circular route is created), and/or more vehicles (whether moving or parked). Any such activity is likely to detract from "wildness". There may also be other possibilities omitted, e.g. camping, litter, pylons.
11. Similarly, the Guidance makes no mention of biodiversity (or "wildlife") as a particular feature of WLAs, as it did in the 2007 guidance. The potential impact of developments on biodiversity within a WLA must surely be of critical importance. See "Specific point" below re para 10.
Para 2: surely "principles" should precede "methodology"? It might be helpful to point out the specific aspect(s) of the "Scottish Planning Policy" (is there only one?) which this guidance is intended to "support".
Para 4: Presumably this para refers in its entirety to (G)LVIA (and not to WLAA). How is "significant" to be assessed (or measured?) - this might be done in various ways, e.g. physical size, physical nature (e.g. built vs. natural), number (and maybe types, e.g. locals or visitors) of "viewers".
Para 5: It is not clear what "assessment" is referred to here: LVIA or WLA? Presumably LVIA, since WL(A)A is "introduced" in the next para. In any case, the text should be strengthened to say that a WLAA is always required within a WLA, as stated in the interim guidance: "In all cases the applicants should make early contact with SNH for advice on the approach for an individual site", and is required for a proposed development outwith an WLA if that development will have a visual impact within the adjacent WLA. The last line should be changed to "The need for an assessment of a proposed development outwith a wild land area must be discussed with the decision maker and SNH at an early stage".
Para 6: We suggest stating that the assessment must always be undertaken by a suitably qualified landscape professional.
Para 10: As regards the first "physical attribute", the 2007 Guidance Note has "a high degree of perceived naturalness in the setting, especially in its vegetation cover and wildlife, and in the processes affecting the land"; this should be given in full.
Para 15: Early discussion with SNH should take place in every case.
Para 16: What exactly is the/a "baseline"? - presumably simply a (further?) description of the WLA or sub-area? This paragraph should begin "When restating the baseline… "; as it stands, "reviewing the baseline" might be understood as giving planners the option to change the description of qualities as designated for each WLA. Further fieldwork should "simply" confirm the characteristics at potential risk.
Para 19: The first sentence does not sufficiently distinguish WLA descriptions" (already in existence: see para 12) from "fieldwork" (to be carried out by the WLAA assessor): the term "further" or "specific" should be inserted before "fieldwork".
Para 23: The sentence "When evaluating the significance of effects, the subjective nature of perceptual responses should be taken in account." is unclear. Paragraph 3.1 of the Interim Guidance provides useful examples of detractors from wild land condition. An example may assist interpretation.
Para 24: It is unclear why proposals for developments adjacent to a WLA are excluded here.
Para 25. Box 2: The last section on restoration should be strengthened as it is often the case that restoration is inadequately outlined in applications and not carried out or maintained properly. The assessment should describe in detail what restoration is needed to mitigate the visual effects. The example given should be expanded to include the post-construction grassing-over of all tracks, in full or at least the creation of a central vegetation strip.
Annex 1 para 2: We suggest that SNH should always be consulted.
1. The examples show the Step 3 sensitivities as being assessed only as either "High" or "Medium"; are "Low" or "Negligible" (or even "Very High") possible?
2. Similarly, the Step 4 "effects" (or "impacts"?) are given as "Negligible", "Low", "Medium", or "High", as "Adverse" or "Positive", and in the "short", "medium" or "long" term. An indication of these "terms" should be given, e.g. years 0-2, 5, and 10 (though some effects will take longer).
3. See "general" comment 3 in the previous box as regards Example 3.
4. It might be helpful to include a "coastal" WLA example.
5. The examples given might have an additional section - 'Step 6- Options for mitigation, including alternatives'.
Examples 4a and 4b: Except on close reading, these appear to be identical, except for the Step 5 Judgement. Their titles (also at start of Annex 2) should be made clearer.
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