by Sandy Gerrard

For several years the needs for renewable energy have been seen as paramount and the historic environment as an unfortunate inconvenience. The government guardians of the historic environment have more or less consistently voiced concerns about the impact of each development but more often than not the decision makers have ruled that the strategic energy needs of the country outweigh any heritage interests. This has resulted in wind farms being built in very sensitive archaeological locations with the inevitable destruction of heritage.

The idea that a particular type of development is inevitably always more desirable than the protection of our heritage is a dangerous place to be.  Sadly this is where we appear to find ourselves. Why is the safeguarding of our heritage always seen as secondary to a myriad of other interests? This is not a new position. There are a number of different types of development where national, regional or local interests are seen as having an almost de facto right to destroy what has gone before. This is where we are and despite certain improvements over the years our heritage remains very vulnerable and those who are tasked with its protection are faced with colossal obstacles. The huge number of wind farm development applications, many in very sensitive heritage locations, must represent a major headache for the authorities and their apparent failures to make a difference is frustrating for everyone who cares for the historic environment.

The trouble is that the guardians of the historic environment are heavily constrained by the planning environment in which they operate and have relatively few tools at their disposal. This has recently been highlighted in Angus, Scotland where Historic Scotland has opposed the erection of a single relatively small turbine at Eassie. Their disapproval is welcome but their reasons for opposition reported in the local newspaper illustrate just how desperate things have become.

The proposed 77m high turbine would stand within 1.1km of three scheduled monuments – the nearest being 500m away. Clearly the setting of these monuments would be affected, but surely at least the archaeological remains would remain safe. It is therefore rather disappointing to read that amongst Historic Scotland’s grounds for opposition is that “These monuments are of national importance as well-preserved burial cairns which have the potential to enhance considerably our understanding of prehistoric burial and ceremonial practices.”  It will surely be obvious to the planners that the building of the turbine will not directly impact on the scheduled monuments. After all our understanding of prehistoric burial and ceremonial practices is not going to be compromised by the building of an unsightly tower so far from the important archaeological remains.

The Historic Scotland objection also mentions “Its importance is enhanced because there are possibly related mounds on the ridge line and on nearby hilltops.” This response is troubling. If there is further archaeology in the vicinity and Historic Scotland considers it may be important why have they not considered it for scheduling? Surely the organisation responsible for safeguarding our heritage should be doing its utmost to ensure that the importance of the area is fully recognised within the planning system.

The newspaper report concludes that “Historic Scotland said the national importance of the monuments outweighs national policy on wind energy.” It will be very interesting to see if the planners agree with this assertion and I sincerely hope they do, as this would set a very significant and helpful precedent. However on the basis of the case presented in the newspaper this would seem to be another example of a half-hearted and poorly focused objection.