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RSPB Scotland calls for planning changes after Forth windfarm defeat

Conservationists have called for changes to planning system after a £2bn offshore project was given a green light despite expert advice warning against the scheme.

RSPB Scotland have said that their defeat in a long-running legal battle against the giant Neart na Gaoithe wind farm in the Firth of Forth could set a “dangerous precedent” where Scottish Government Ministers routinely ignore the advice of environmental groups.

The charity learned earlier this week that UK Supreme Court had refused permission to grant an appeal against the decision of Scotland’s top civil court that the development could go ahead.

The wildlife campaigners say that the project threatens the thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes which nest along the coast, and fear it could be one of the most damaging windfarms for seabirds in the world.

Their concerns over the planning system have been echoed by the National Trust for Scotland, who say that a majority of people feel they have no influence on local decisions and that system needs to do more protect and enhance our heritage.

The Trust conducted a survey which found that three out of five people feel they had no influence on planning decisions affecting their local area, while only 41 per cent believed their historic environment has been protected or enhanced by planners.

RSPB Scotland launched its latest round of legal action after an initial victory in the courts blocking the plan was overturned when Scottish Government Ministers were successful with their own appeal.

The Government’s decision to back the scheme and enter into a legal fight flew in the face of advice from Scottish Natural Heritage, who warned that the scheme would “adversely affect” a number of wild bird populations.

Saying that the latest verdict was “extremely disappointing”, Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, outlined her fears for the impact it may have on future developments.

She said: “Perhaps most worryingly, it could also set an extremely dangerous precedent for decision-making on future development, whereby Scottish Ministers no longer need to take heed of their own expert nature conservation advisors, nor the concerns of the public or indeed consider the implications of development on areas known to be of international importance to wildlife.”

Mainstream Renewable Power, the firm behind Neart na Gaoithe, now hopes to press ahead with the project next year.

The 75-turbine windfarm will cover around 80 square km offshore from the coast of Fife.

It has been estimated that it could generate up to £1.2bn for the Scottish economy and power 1.4 million homes.

However, the decision by the Scottish Government to press ahead with the scheme follows a number of similar cases where Minsters have found themselves in opposition to conservationists.

Most famously, The Scottish Government under Alex Salmond backed Donald Trump’s plan for a golf course at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire despite criticism from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland, and others.

Earlier this year the John Muir Trust (JMT) were unsuccessful in their opposition to the Creag Riabhach windfarm near the Altnaharra Estate in Sutherland, which is to go ahead despite a legal challenge by a local landowner.

Last year the JMT lost its own case against the Stronelairg windfarm near Fort Augustus when judges upheld an appeal by the Scottish Government and SSE. Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy welcomed the decision.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Protecting our marine environment it is of paramount importance to the Scottish Government, and a key consideration when assessing offshore renewable energy applications, alongside the vital need to mitigate the damaging effects of Climate Change on terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

“The Forth wind farm application underwent a full and thorough public and stakeholder consultation prior to being determined by Scottish Ministers.

“As detailed in the decision letter and recognised by the Court of Session, Ministers took appropriate account of the advice provided by our Statutory Nature Conservation bodies and evidence from objectors such as RSPB.”