The largest ever wind farm planned in the Highlands has been thrown out by an appeal judge.
Conservation charity the John Muir Trust sought a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s decision to give the go ahead to a controversial 67-turbine Stronlairg wind farm in the famous Monahdliath Mountains.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing had granted permission for SSE Renewables’ project at Stronelairg, near Fort Augustus.
The John Muir Trust charity lodged a petition to the Court of Session asking for a judicial review of his decision to grant consent without any public local inquiry.
Lord Jones, who carried out the judicial review, said ministers reached their decision on SSE’s project “in breach of environmental obligations”.
The court heard that Scottish Natural Heritage had objected in principle to the wind farm’s proposed site.
Lord Jones said: “If the ministers did take into consideration SNH’s objection in principle to any wind farm development at Stronelairg, they have given no reason for rejecting it, and the decision is defective on that account.”
The public was also denied an opportunity to comment on a revised planning application for the proposed wind farm, the judge said.
He said the government’s decision to give consent should be set aside.
It was claimed the wind farm could generate enough electricity to power 114,000 homes. The operators also said it would bring £30 million worth of benefits to the region.
However, the John Muir Trust said the development would “destroy the character” of an area of wild land.
They said the 67-turbine development would have extended over an area the size of Inverness.
The charity claimed 70 per cent of the Stronelairg site consisted of wet peatland, Scotland’s miniature version of the rainforest, and would have faced severe disruption as a result of the excavation of 22 million cubic feet of stone from the area.
Lord Jones ruled in his decision that members of the public had been denied the opportunity to comment on a revised planning application for the proposed wind farm, and that Scottish Ministers did not take into account Scottish Natural Heritage’s objection in principle to any wind farm development at Stronelairg.
Stuart Brooks, John Muir Trust Chief Executive said: “This is great news for all those who love Scotland’s wild land and wish to see it protected.
“A financial appeal brought a tremendous level of support from over a thousand well-wishers, allowing the Trust to proceed. Lord Jones has now decided the Trust’s court action was well-founded.”
“Due to the impact this approval had on a wild land area – which led to Scottish National Heritage removing a significant area from its Wild Land Areas map – the Trust very reluctantly took this judicial review against the government.”
Lord Jones concluded that the Trust was taking the action for the public good.
He said: “The interest of any non-governmental organisation, such as the trust, is deemed sufficient. The question, therefore, is not whether the trust was prejudiced, but whether members of the public were prejudiced.”
Mr Brooks said: “Lord Jones rightly identified that this case was taken and won in the public interest so the right thing for Scottish Ministers to do is not to appeal this decision.
“The Trust will now be asking Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Government to reinstate the Stronelairg area in the Wild Land Areas map, giving an important piece of our natural heritage – including vast swathes of peatland which help to mitigate climate change – some measure of protection.
“SSE should recognise that this was the wrong development, of the wrong size and in the wrong place. The company now has an opportunity to show that they are listening to communities and tourism bodies and to engage with others to revitalise the natural environment there rather than pursue this damaging development which would cover a footprint the size of Inverness.
“Lessons need to be learned from the lack of proper procedure and incorrect decision-making by the government.”
SSE had sought permission for up to 83 turbines at Stronelairg near its Glendoe hydro electric scheme above Fort Augustus.
However, in April 2013, Highland councillors voted 11 to three in favour of raising no objection on the understanding the project was reduced to 67 turbines.