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Court of Session approves Stronelairg wind farm

Words: Laura Edgar

A 67-turbine wind farm has been approved despite objections raised by a conservation trust.

The wind farm will be built at Stronelairg at the Garrogie Estate, near Fort Augustus.

Scottish ministers originally approved the SSE scheme in 2014, but charity John Muir Trust sought a judicial review of the plans, saying the turbines would “destroy the character of the land”. In 2015, Lord Jones said the Scottish Government’s decision was “defective” and was “in breach of environmental obligations”. Jones also ruled that the public had been denied that chance to make representations on a revised scheme for the wind farm after John Muir Trust bought an action to the court.

Stuart Brooks, chief executive, John Muir Trust, said the trust took legal action “reluctantly” owing to the “sheer scale” of the development proposed in an area of wild land, “the potential ecological damage to a vast area of peatland, and the breadth of opposition”.

This included Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park Authority the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and three out of four local councillors, he said.

“Objectors outnumbered supporters of the application by 15 to one.”

Both the Scottish Government and the energy firm SSE appealed against the judicial review decision.

Three judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh held that the decision to block the development should be recalled.

Lord Carloway, the Lord President, 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 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.”

Carloway added that the public and the trust did have “ample” opportunity to comment on the original application and the revised scheme.

A spokesperson for SSE said the wind farm “will not be seen from the Great Glen’s key tourist routes”.

“It will be entirely invisible from Loch Ness and will utilise the extensive existing infrastructure at our Glendoe hydro scheme,” added the spokesperson.

“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 today has brought good news to a project that would bring significant benefits to the local and wider economy."

John Muir Trust said it is taking further legal advice and considering its options on what to next.

The judgment can be found here.

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