A conservation charity has hit out at a ruling which means that there will be no cap on the legal expenses they face should they lose their defence of a judicial review into plans for the Highlands’ largest wind farm to date.
Judges at the Inner House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh last week heard an appeal from the Scottish Ministers and SSE against the decision which had overturned a Scottish Government decision giving the go-ahead to the giant Stronelairg wind farm development in the Monadhliath Mountains near Loch Ness.
The successful judicial review had been taken by the John Muir Trust. A decision on the appeal is expected, at the earliest, in a couple of months.
The trust has been refused a Protective Expenses Order that would have limited its liability for costs in the Inner House of the Court of Session in the event of losing the main appeal. The judgment was a split decision with Lady Smith and Lord Brodie finding against the Trust with Lord Drummond Young supporting the trust’s case.
Stuart Brooks, chief executive for the John Muir Trust said: “While we await the decision of this latest appeal, it’s disconcerting that the refusal of a Protective Expenses Order means that in taking on this issue in the public interest, as was noted in the Judicial Review decision, we will have to continue to ask members of the public to dig deep into their pockets to challenge a decision that was ruled unlawful.”
The decision to grant consent by Scottish Ministers went against the advice of the Scottish Government’s own advisors Scottish Natural Heritage – who advised that a wind farm should not be built at Stronelairg because of its wild land qualities.
A SSE spokesperson said: “We agree with the court’s decision not to grant a Protective Expenses Order to the John Muir Trust. We believe the consent decision for Stronelairg was lawful. It is a carefully designed project sited on degraded peatland with the carbon payback estimated to be around 16 months.
“It would sit in a natural upland bowl, would not be seen from the Great Glen’s key tourist routes, and would be entirely invisible from Loch Ness. Stronelairg would utilise extensive existing infrastructure at our Glendoe hydro scheme. The project would bring significant benefits to the local and wider economy. It was strongly supported by many local stakeholders, was not opposed by the local community council and was supported by the Highland Council planning committee.”
The John Muir Trust has been fighting the proposed development since 2012.
The wind farm application was approved by Scottish Ministers in June 2014 less than two weeks before the Scottish Government changed its national planning policy to afford more protection to wild land.
Plans have been approved for a big electricity substation by Garvamore near Laggan but it will only be built if the Stronelairg wind farm goes ahead.
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