On 6th June 2014, the Scottish Minister for Energy, Fergus Ewing, made a decision to grant permission for a 67-turbine wind farm in the Monadhliath Mountains in the Highlands. The Stonelairg wind farm would be the largest single industrial energy development in the region. Since then, however, an environmental trust has launched a judicial review of that decision, challenging the legality of the new farm.
The John Muir Trust, which was established to protect the wild landscapes of the UK, has challenged the Minister’s decision on the basis that it was made without conducting any Public Local Inquiry. In launching its petition with the Court of Session, the environmental group has argued that this is unlawful, particularly in light of the scale of the project.
It suggests that written submissions from the public overwhelmingly objected to the project – at a ratio of about 15:1 – and that the decision is not consistent with the stance that the Scottish Government has adopted on the importance of preserving wild land in recent years. The group cites the opposition of the Cairngorm National Park Authority, as well as that of the Government’s own advisory body, Scottish National Heritage, in support of its position.
The trust has, however, made it clear that its legal action is against the Minister in question and not the local councillors. The latter, by way of an 11:3 vote, chose not to oppose the plan, after a number of concessions were secured – including a reduction in the size of the wind farm. John Muir Trust suggests that the local councillors had to make their decision on unreliable expert evidence.
The Energy Minister has, however, defended his decision. In doing so, he argued that the wind farm has local support. This, he suggested, is because it will be a source of local construction jobs and will ensure over £30 million in community funds for 25 years for the local area. In addition, he argued that the project is supported by existing infrastructure in the area.
SSE Renewables, the company that was granted the contract for the wind farm, has also indicated that it is ‘disappointed’ by the decision of the trust to challenge the decision. It has made it clear that it intends to continue with the project, which is due to be completed in around 36 months. SSE has also indicated that it will give funds to the local community in recognition of the disruption that it will face during construction of the farm. It has stated that it will minimise the environmental impact by utilising existing roads and tracks to access the site, and that the plans for the farm ensure that it is not visible from the major tourist attractions in the area.
The Scottish Government has pledged to support ‘wild land areas’ in recent planning proposals. However, in light of the fact that consent has been given for the Stonelairg wind farm, the area surrounding the development is not included in that category.
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