‘Pictures speak louder than words’. Images are a powerful way of conveying information, illustrating options and capturing our imagination. They also form an important part of planning applications and Environmental Statements. The landscape and visual assessment of wind farms, however, involves much more than just looking at visualisations.
This guidance is aimed at landscape practitioners, those involved in producing visual representations of wind farms and at planning officers or decision makers involved in the planning process. A condensed version aimed at members of the public is also available on our website. The visualisations described are designed for use by all stakeholders within the planning process.
Visualisations are very useful in communicating information, but they can never tell the wholes tory. They cannot replicate the experience of seeing a wind farm in the landscape, whether they are photographs, maps, sketches or computer - generated visualisations, prepared using the highest specification and skill possible. They are an aid to decision making which must be considered alongside further information.
Experience gained since this guidance was first published in 2006 has led to a better understanding of how to represent proposed wind farm developments in a more accessible and realistic way. The revised methodology provides visualisations which are easier for both the public and decision makers to use. New sections on offshore wind farms and repowering have also been included, and there are additional points on turbine lighting.
Nonetheless, anyone using visualisations should be aware of their limitations, and these are explained throughout the text and in Annex A. It is recommended that the standard text in Annex A should be inserted into the Environmental Statement and made available at public exhibitions.
All wind farm applications requiring a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment should conform with the requirements set out within this document. Applications which do not require an EIA should follow a proportionate approach agreed with the determining authority. Different landscapes, types of wind farms and conditions in other countries may require different approaches. SNH cannot offer advice on applications outside Scotland.
Smaller scale wind farm proposals (up to 3 turbines) and single turbine applications do not usually require the same level of visual representation. A tailored, proportionate approach is required which is likely to include fewer viewpoints (2-3 will generally be sufficient) and fewer visualisations per viewpoint. This should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Wirelines may be relatively unhelpful in flat landscapes for example, other than during the design stage or in conjunction with other, photographic, visualisations. However, we recommend that the same methodology (camera, lens, image presentation) is used for small scale applications for consistency and ease of understanding by decision makers and members of the public. Viewpoints immediately adjacent to small scale proposals tend to less useful than those a few 4 kilometres away which show more context. Our guidance on assessing small scale wind farms should be referred to.
Some aspects of this guidance are prescriptive and must be complied with. A summary of these requirements is provided in Annex B. Other aspects include options, and it is for the landscape assessor to choose the most appropriate approach for the site in question, agree it with relevant consultees, and justify these choices in the ES.
Some planning authorities have also produced specific guidance for wind farms and single turbines. Early engagement with authorities is encouraged to establish their information requirements. SNH will require visualisations which meet the requirements of this guidance for all applications we are consulted on.