Alan Macdonald Windfarm visualisation assessment and peer review

Photomontages are the only means by which an informed judgment on the predicted impact of wind turbines can be made. For over two decades, the photomontages submitted in windfarm planning applications have been a contentious issue and the subject of widespread complaints regarding misleading visualisations. Since 2006, visualisations throughout the UK have been based on Guidance produced by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) with the support of the Landscape Institute.

Empirical testing of windfarm visualisations conforming to the 2006 SNH Guidance revealed that the images were seriously flawed.

Extensive field tests and comparisons between the original visualisations and the built reality undertaken by Alan Macdonald and Gordon Mooney of The Highland Council (THC) revealed that the ‘viewing distance’ methodology used by SNH to justify the misleading presentation format was seriously flawed and simply being used as a vehicle to diminish the predicted visual impact. This 'subtle but powerful' under-representation was first identified by Professor Benson in the University of Newcastle Report published in 2002.

how the deception worked

Each image on the page was made up of several photographs joined horizontally to form a wide parorama. No clear 'health warning' was given to explain that UNLESS each image was viewed at a much closer distance so that the photograph in the middle was viewed with peripheral vision on either side, a powerful under-representation occurred. Because the overall A3 page was naturally viewed from a greater distance, the turbines and the landscape appeared much further away. It was in fact a clever deception justified by a complex pseudo-science which had no technical or scientific credibility. Although claims of misleading visualisations from the public were widespread, the deception remained unquestioned and unchallenged by council planners for 20 years.

As a result, since 2009, The Highland Council have developed and refined their own Visualisation Standards which SNH now claim are the basis of their 2014 and 2017 guidance. However, because they have taken important aspects of the THC standards out of the context for which they were originally designed, serious problems still exist and the public continue to be misled. This is particularly the case in small scale windfarms and single turbine applications.

"Because of the high cost of Environmental Statements costing up to £1,000 or more, most members of the public view windfarm visualisations on councils' ePlanning portals unaware of the fact that the images can still seriously under-represent the visual impact".

Alan Macdonald who is a qualified architect and professional photographer has 26 years international experience in photomontage work for planning applications. He is the leading expert in the computer analysis and assessment of windfarm visualisations and is the author of ‘Windfarm Visualisation – Perspective or Perception’ which was the result of 20 years research and now regarded as the authorative book on the subject. He is also available to undertake peer reviews and appear as an expert witness at Public Local Inquiries.

Peer review
Computer analysis
"If viewed on a computer screen, a 53.5-degree panorama will under-represent our perception of turbine scale by a factor of two and a 90-degree panorama will under-represent our perception of scale by a factor of four. In other words, the turbines will appear at half and a quarter scale respectively".
If viewed by the public on a Council's ePlanning portal or projected to a planning committee, panoramic images are seriously misleading.


Address: Ballinreach, Kintradwell, Brora, Sutherland KW9 6LU

E-mail address: info@architechav.com

Telephone: 07917 680933


The following illustrated book is available from Whittles Publishing:

The following papers are downloadable from the internet:

The following document can be downloaded from The Highland Council website.

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