A decision by Scottish ministers to refuse a wind farm by Laggan which could have combined to form one of the most extensive swathes of turbines in the UK has been welcomed.
The Glenshero Wind Farm proposed by SIMEC Wind One Ltd – owned by the under-fire GFG Alliance group – in the southern Monadhliath was rejected because of the visual impact the 39 turbines, reaching 135 metres at tip height, would have had.
High-profile national conservation organisations and charities had objected to the renewable energy project, as had the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), which said the wind farm would have been visible from key spots within its boundaries.
The application site alone for Glenshero – eight kilometres to the north-west of Laggan – covered around 37.4 square kilometres with 28 kilometres of new access track required.
The RSPB had objected over the unacceptable collision risk to golden eagle and significant adverse effects on regional populations of golden plover and dunlin.
Other objectors included crucially NatureScot; Aviemore-based Wildland Limited – owned by Anders Holch Povlsen; the John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland.
The latter has welcomed the decision and pointed out they have only on average objected to one in 20 wind farm applications coming forward.
They said it would have been “a gross intrusion of development in a sensitive landscape” affecting the wild qualities of the landscape including the summit of Creag Meagaidh.
The group said it was frustrating that this proposal had even come forward, as in 2014 Stronelairg was reduced in size by 16 turbines by the Scottish ministers, explicitly to lessen landscape and visual impact.
Mountaineering Scotland chief Stuart Younie, said: “We welcome this ratification by the Scottish Government of their previous decision for Stronelairg.
“Turbines would have spilled out onto the outward facing slopes above the route from Laggan to the Corrieyairack Pass, and would have dominated the landscape of the upper glens of the Spey and Roy, from which Stronelairg is invisible.”
He added that he trusted that the developers of the adjacent Cloiche wind farm proposal took note and recognise that this is not “the right development in the right place”.
He added: “We expect them to do the sensible thing and withdraw their proposal from the planning system, saving time and money for everyone involved.”
A Mountaineering Scotland spokesman said: “Glenshero seemed a blatant attempt to reinstate the turbines which had been previously rejected thereby undermining the planning system.”
Go-ahead could have formed part of 155 turbines in wildland
Objectors said the impact would have been exacerbated given that the 39 turbines at Glenshero would have abutted with Stronelairg, the biggest wind farm approved so far in the Highlands and Islands.
Its 66 turbines are now all in place, and there is also another proposed wind farm at Cloiche with 36 turbines in the pipeline to the west of Stronelairg and north west of Glenshero.
The 14-turbine Dell wind farm has consent at the northern edge of Stronelairg.
Mike Daniels, head of policy at the John Muir Trust, described the decision on Glenshero as “the correct one”.
He said: “We absolutely recognise that for Scotland, net zero by 2045 requires expanding our renewables sector, alongside reducing energy use and increasing the carbon our land naturally captures.
“But it must be the right renewables in the right place. We must not destroy our fragile and essential wild places and peatlands in the process.”
ScotWays had identified potential impacts on the setting of General Wade’s Military Road through the Corrieyairack Pass – a Scheduled Ancient Monument – and other historic rights of way including the Soft Road for the Hoggs and the Glen Markie Track.
A spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that the Reporter concluded that the applicant understated the significance of the landscape and visual effects.
“He noted that the main impacts would be on people in the outdoors and hill walkers, and found that there would be extensive significant visual amenity impacts over a considerable distance.
“We therefore welcome the Scottish ministers’ decision to refuse this application, agreeing that it is not “the right development in the right place” because of its landscape, visual and wild land impacts.”
A CNPA spokeswoman said: “We are pleased with the result and that the Reporter agreed with our assessment of impacts on the special landscape qualities and integrity of the national park.”
Highland Council had opposed the application resulting in a public inquiry which was held in November 2020 and had included site visits by the Reporter.
He subsequently recommended Scottish ministers refused the application as “the applicant has understated the significance of the landscape and visual effects”.
The findings stated: “The proposal would result in significant adverse visual impacts for hill walkers from an extensive number of viewpoints.
The integrity of the Cairngorms National Park would be compromised and the qualities of wild land area would be significantly impacted.
“The positive policy support for renewables and the project’s contribution to renewable energy targets, together with material economic benefits, do not in the Reporter’s view outweigh the negative impacts of the project.
“Glenshero Wind Farm is not located in the right place.”
A GFG Alliance spokesperson said: “GFG is disappointed by the decision and reviewing the documents published with the decision notice.”
The decision could also have repercussions for the proposed Melgarve Cluster project to connect the wind farms to the Grid.
A SSEN Transmission spokesperson said: “We’re aware of the recent decision from Scottish ministers regarding Glenshero Wind Farm, and will engage with the developer before we move forward with further designs for the Melgarve Cluster project.”
The Glenshero findings can be read at www.energyconsents.scot/ApplicationDetails.aspx?cr=ECU00000517
MAP: Public consultation on Melgarve Cluster project
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