A conservation charity has lodged a petition to the Court of Session for a judicial review of a council decision to raise no objection to controversial windfarm in the heart of the Monadhliath Mountains.
The John Muir Trust claim the decision by Highland councillors not to oppose the 83-turbine Stronelair project by Scottish and Southern Energy went against the national interest objection from Scottish Natural Heritage.
The Government agency had stated the development – spread over an area of 35 square kilometres, one and half times the size of Inverness – would destroy the character of one of Scotland’s key areas of wild land.
Planning authorities are legally obliged to determine applications in accordance with local and national planning policy when considering development applications.
The trust has sought its own legal advice and the organisation claims that this indicates the Stronelairg decision was based on a fundamental misinterpretation by the council planning officials of the National Planning Framework, Scottish Planning Policy and the Highland-wide Local Development Plan – and was therefore unlawful.
Chairman John Hutchison, who lives in the Highlands said: “This legal action is not directed against the councillors, who have to deal with multiple issues and are forced to rely on expert advice from officials.
“We believe the quality of the advice itself was flawed and fundamentally in conflict with the existing local and national planning policy – which states explicitly that authorities should safeguard the character of wild land areas.
“Since the decision was taken, the Scottish Government has confirmed the existing protection of wild land and proposed a further strengthening of wild land protection.
“In the light of existing and emerging planning policy frameworks, the decision to not object to the Stronelairg application was, in our opinion, both unreasonable and unlawful.”
Helen McDade, the Trust’s head of policy said: “The Monadhliath area is recognised by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of the key areas of core wild land in Scotland. Stronelairg, in the heart of this mountain range, is the largest wind application ever considered by Highland Council.
“The same local authority recently – and rightly – raised objections to smaller developments at Glenmorie and Dalnessie on wild land grounds.
“The council has not explained this fundamental inconsistency. However, it would be perverse if the very much larger Stronelairg proposal was not subject to the same rigorous public scrutiny as these two applications.”
She added: “We are concerned that if consent is given to building this giant development, the recent very welcome progress towards further strengthening the protection of Scotland’s remaining wild landcould start to unravel, with other core wild land areas across the Highlands then being targeted for large scale wind farm development.”
The petition calls for a ‘judicial review of a decision of The Highland Council made on 8 April to raise no objection to the application by Scottish & Southern Energy Renewables to the Scottish Ministers for consent under section 36 of the Electricity 1989 for the erection of 83 turbines at Stronelairg, Garrogie Estate, Whitebridge, Fort Augustus’.