Energy company SSE and the Scottish government have won a lengthy legal battle against a conservation charity to permit the building of a 67 turbine wind farm in the Scottish highlands.
SSE first put in an application to build a wind farm on the land near the company’s Glendoe hydro-electric power plant south of Loch Ness back in 2012. At the time, they intended to build 83 turbines on the site but were met with objections from Scottish Natural Heritage, a watchdog group.
Eventually, in 2014, the government gave SSE approval to build a 67 turbine wind farm on the land, after the Highland Council gave initial approval the year before.
However, in December last year, conservationist charity the John Muir Trust commissioned a judicial review, led by the Lord Jones, in order to overturn the government’s decision. The Trust argued that the turbines would, if built, “destroy the character” of the surrounding landscape.
The review was successful, with Lord Jones saying that the initial ruling that gave permission was “defective”. He said: “If the ministers did take into consideration SNH’s [Scottish National Heritage] objection in principle to any wind farm development at Stronelairg, they have given no reason for rejecting it, and the decision is defective on that account.”
Therefore, he argued, the wind farm would be “in breach of environmental obligations.”
Following the success of the review and the overturning of the original granting of permission, the head of the John Muir Trust, Stuart Brooks, said: “This is great news for all those who love Scotland’s wild land and wish to see it protected.
“A financial appeal brought a tremendous level of support from over a thousand well-wishers, allowing the trust to proceed.
“Lord Jones has now decided the trust’s court action was well-founded.”
However, last Friday, the Scottish court, led by Lord President Lord Carloway, overturned the review. Carloway said that, despite objections from the John Muir Trust, “careful consideration was given to the visual impact of the development and its effect on the wild land upon which it was to be built”.
He said that “the energy benefits and the contribution the development would make to sustainable economic growth outweighed the environmental aspects”, explaining that, contrary to Lord Jones’ initial judgement, “this was a planing judgement which the respondents (the Scottish Ministers) were entitled to make”.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Brooks of the John Muir Trust expressed his disappointment in this latest judgement.
He said: “We are extremely disappointed by the decision.
“We took out this legal action reluctantly because of the sheer scale of the development proposed by SSE in an area of wild land, the potential ecological damage to a vast area of peatland, and the breadth of opposition – which included Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park Authority the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and three out of four local councillors. Objectors outnumbered supporters of the application by 15 to one.
“Lord Jones, in the initial judicial review, found in favour of the trust’s legal arguments that Scottish Government had not followed the correct planning process. The Inner House judges have now disagreed with that assessment.
“We are confident that we did the right thing by challenging this decision – standing up against a scheme that could industrialise and decimate a precious area of wild Scotland.”
Others, however, have supported the latest decision, arguing that building the wind farm represents an important step in terms of de-carbonising and securing Scotland’s energy supply, and promoting the use of reliable, clean energy worldwide.
Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, said: “The wind farm is designed to produce electricity equivalent to the needs of more than 100,000 homes – a vital boost at a time when Scotland, the UK and Europe all need to ensure a secure energy supply for the future.
“It will also produce a further boost to Scotland’s work in leading international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”