Developers trying to build a controversial six-turbine wind farm on the edge of a world-famous landscape claim its refusal undermines the integrity of Scotland’s planning system.
The owners of the German wpd.group have launched a legal challenge in the Court of Session against the decision by a Scottish Government planning reporter to refuse permission for the development by Glen Affric.
Wpd claims “unverified online submissions to the planning portal have undoubtedly influenced the decision making process”.
The firm had earlier appealed to the Scottish Government following repeated delays by the Highland Council in considering their application.
But they say they were shocked by the decision in July of the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) reporter Richard Hickman to dismiss their appeal.
They claim the decision on their Beinn Mhor development has “severe impacts on the integrity of the Scottish planning system”.
The turbines would had been almost 400ft to blade tip near the acclaimed glen, which lies in the middle of the large area of land between Loch Ness in the east and Loch Duich on the west coast.
The project was opposed by the wild land charity the John Muir Trust, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, two local community councils and over 1,000 members of the public.
But Kyla Donaldson, wpd Scotland’s project manager, said their appeal had been dismissed against the recommendation of all technical consultees involved in the planning application.
She said that the head of planning at Highland Council had recommended approval. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had said it could be “accommodated” as “the likely effects on the appreciation of the special qualities of the Glen Affric National Scenic Area (NSA) would not be significant”.
She said SNH had also concluded that it was unlikely to adversely affect the Glen Affric to Strathconon Special Protection Area (SPA), a designated site of international importance for golden eagles.
“Mr Hickman, a self-employed reporter at the DPEA, overturned the professional assessments and recommendation by the Highland Council’s planning department, the Scottish Government’s environmental agency SNH and the reports of over a dozen specialists who have worked on the planning application for almost two years” she said.
“The DPEA is struggling to explain how a reporter who has no professional qualification as a landscape architect or traffic and transport specialist can mock the entire Scottish planning system.
“Whether one supports wind energy or not – the DPEA’S Reporter has issued a purely arbitrary decision which has revealed to members of the public, local groups with an interest in the project as well as the developer that the planning system is wide open to bias.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The reporter appointed by Scottish Minsters set out his reasons concerning this case in his decision notice. As an appeal against the decision has been made to the Court of Session, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
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