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Highland Council Visualisation Standard – Update

Wind Turbines

Photo © Alamy

Updated view of the Highland Council published new Visualisation Standards for Wind Energy Developments.

The Highland Council published new Visualisation Standards for Wind Energy Developments in February 2010, which are now issued to wind farm applicants. The Standards are in accordance with the letter issued to all Heads of Planning by the Director and Chief Planner, Scottish Government, dated January 2009. The letter states Planning Authorities should make clear in any scoping advice their visualisation requirements and where these have not been provided use their powers to request further information from applicants.

The new Standards have been drawn up because of widespread complaints from the public, planning officers and elected members regarding misleading visualisations submitted in Environmental Statements for wind farm applications, which is in breach of the spirit and understanding of the EIA Regulations. Recently built wind farms in Scotland have also revealed a considerable discrepancy between the planning visualisations and the built reality.

A separate wholly independent report and study published, May 2012, by the University of Stirling found serious flaws in the images that are being presented as part of visual impact assessments that are then used in the planning process produced following the use of other visualisation ‘guidance’ (sic). The report further found the use of the controversial industry-standard 50mm lens to be highly misleading, this is through making the specified focal point appear too small and too far away relative to its appearance in the actual landscape.

The Highland Council Standard is the result of several years’ investigation, empirical testing and research by the Council’s Planning and Development Service and takes precedence over all existing guidance for any wind farm application within the Highland Council Region other councils have now followed the application of the Standard.

Detailed study included field tests of visualisations, detailed assessment of 18 EIA submissions, and technical research and consultation with experts including Professor Knill at the Center for Visual Science (University of Rochester, New York).

The University of Stirling report strongly endorsed the use of 75mm focal length lens for wind farm visualisation this is already a major stipulation of the Highland Council Standard.

Another prime requirement of the Standard is to require the Camera RAW digital metadata to be submitted with any application on CD-ROM to enable the degree of adjustment or manipulation that may have been applied to the image. Other visualisation guidance fails to require this, which simply confounds good science.

The application of these Standards has been widely praised by Councillors and the public, and has helped to remove contention regarding the veracity of visualisations.

Since 2008, Colin Caudery, of Stop Turbines in North Cornwall (STINC) and a CPRE Cornwall Executive Trustee, has been doggedly taking this visual issue forward within both the British Government and Cornwall Council. In Cornwall this cumulated in June 2010 with the Standard being included within the council’s Draft Supplementary Planning Document – Renewable and Low Carbon Technologies. CPRE Cornwall, through its then Planning and Development Officer, Richard Ward, has insisted that the Standard stays in the Document and becomes adopted despite short-sighted opposition from developers, consultants and now Cornwall Council itself. It has to become the sole visualisation Standard for Cornwall; also and just as importantly CPRE Cornwall intends to ensure it becomes the country’s first nationally adopted Visualisation Standard that will actually show the visual reality of any planning proposal that requires visualisations.

CPRE Cornwall along with Cornwall Protect is doing all it can to persuade Cornwall Council, the Coalition Government and CPRE nationally to adopt the Highland Council Visualisation Standard.

The Standard can be viewed here

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