A controversial wind farm on a stretch of wild land will go ahead despite objections from conservationists.
A total of 67 turbines will now be built at Stronelairg at the Garrogie Estate, near Fort Augustus, after appeal judges ruled in favour of the development.
Energy firm SSE welcomed the Court of Session’s decision, which came after the Scottish Government appealed against an earlier ruling which blocked the project amid concerns over its scale and impact on an area of wild land.
The John Muir Trust, which had initially won a judicial review it brought against the ministers’ ruling that consent should be granted, said it was disappointed by the latest decision.
Stuart Brooks, chief executive of the conservation charity, said: “We took out this legal action reluctantly because of the scale of the development 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 a margin of 15 to one. “We are now taking further legal advice and considering options.”
Three judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh held that the decision by the late Lord Jones to block the development must be recalled.
Scotland’s senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, said: “It is apparent from the decision letter that 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. The respondents (the ministers) nevertheless held that the energy benefits and the contribution the development would make to sustainable economic growth outweighed the environmental aspects. This was a planning judgment which the respondents were entitled to make.”
Lord Jones had earlier ruled that members of the public had been denied the chance to make representations on a revised scheme for the wind farm after the John Muir Trust brought an action to court.
But Lord Carloway said: “The reality is that the public, and the petitioners (John Muir Trust), did have ample opportunity to comment on the original application and the revised scheme.”
A spokesman for SSE said: “We welcome the ruling.
“Situated in a natural upland bowl, Stronelairg will not be seen from the Great Glen’s key tourist routes, will be entirely invisible from Loch Ness and will utilise the extensive existing infrastructure at our Glendoe hydro scheme. Stronelairg is a carefully-designed project with the carbon payback estimated to be around 16 months. 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 ruling has brought good news to a project that would bring significant benefits.”
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