A leading conservation charity is seeking judicial review of the Scottish Government’s decision to approve a plan for a controversial £300 million Highland windfarm.
The Perthshire-based John Muir Trust said the decision by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing to consent SSE Renewables Stronelairg array near Fort Augustus in the Great Glen was inconsistent with the administration’s own measures to protect wild land.
The group said it had now lodged a petition at the Court of Session seeking judicial review of the decision and has called for donations to help fund the court challenge.
The process could take months to resolve and put severe pressure on the developer’s timescales.
The trust yesterday said it had acted as the Scottish Government had made a decision which contradicted the opinion of its own advisory body and came despite opposition from the Cairngorm National Park Authority and from local residents.
“Over the past year, the Scottish Government has made ground-breaking progress by adopting the new Wild Land Areas map of Scotland and, for the first time, recognising wild land as an important national asset,” trust chairman John Hutchison said.
“However, we believe the decision by the Energy Minister to give the go-ahead to Stronelairg without a public local inquiry is not consistent with Scottish Government measures to protect the best areas of wild land from industrialisation.
“This is the largest-ever windfarm approved in the Highlands, and was opposed by both the Government’s own advisory body on nature and landscape, SNH, and by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
“Because of the scale of the development, and the breadth of opposition to it, we believe it should have been the subject of a public local inquiry.
“In the absence of proper democratic scrutiny, our trustees feel we had no choice but to seek a judicial review of the decision.
“The trust is now seeking donations to help us take forward this legal action.”
If built, the 67-turbine Stronelairg array would have a maximum installed capacity of 242MW – enough to power around 114,000 homes.
The project – which would take three years to construct on a site adjacent to SSE’s Glendoe Hydro electric scheme – is smaller than the 83-turbine site which SSE first sought planning permission for in 2012.
The larger scheme was given the go-ahead by Highland Council’s south planning committee in April last year, subject to conditions relating to transport arrangements and concrete batching,
SSE said it had addressed the issues raised and had also agreed to remove 16 turbines from the overall plan, reduce the height of a further 10 and reposition one.
At the time of the consent approval in June, the company’s lead director of wholesale generation development Colin Nicol said SSE was a “responsible developer” that enjoyed strong community relations in the Great Glen area as a result of its long-term hydro power presence.
A spokesperson for SSE Renewables last night said the company was disappointed by JMT’s decision to petition the courts.
“This petition for JR (judicial review) is particularly disappointing given the extent of the local support for the project and its location around existing hydroelectric infrastructure,” said the spokesperson.
“We will now respond to this legal challenge through the appropriate process.”
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