Fight over massive wind farm "enhanced charity's reputation"
A campaigning charity has dropped its legal bid to halt the construction of a massive wind farm.
The John Muir Trust (JMT) has admitted defeat in the fight to stop energy company SSE building 67 massive turbines at Stonelairg near Fort Augustus.
However, while it has lost the battle, the charity says it has emerged a winner in terms of the campaign to stop inappropriate developments on environmentally sensitive land.
Last year, the JMT secured a judicial review of the Scottish Government's decision approving the project.
The action has strengthened the John Muir Trust’s reputation as a campaigning charity
However, judges have upheld an appeal by the government and SSE, clearing the way for the wind farm to go ahead.
JMT initially said it would explore all legal options – but it has now announced the fight is over.
However, chief executive Stuart Brooks said the experience gained would help it in the future – and will galvanise other groups and communities.
He said: “We did not take this legal action lightly. If it goes ahead, this development would be the largest ever in the Scottish Highlands, with 67 turbines (substantially taller than the highest structures in any Scottish city) spread over an area of 35 square kilometres, comparable to the size of Inverness. It would involve the excavation of 22 million cubic feet of stone – equivalent to a Berlin wall stretching from the Pentland Firth to the English Channel – from an area consisting mainly of peatland, a massive carbon store and Scotland’s miniature version of the rainforest.
“The decision to approve the scheme flew in the face of expert advice from the government’s own advisory body SNH, which stated that the development would destroy the character of one of Scotland’s key areas of wild land. The application was also opposed by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and three out of four local councillors, while written objections from the public outnumbered letters of support by 15 to one.
“Yet there was no opportunity for thorough public scrutiny of the proposal. Because there was no objection from the relevant Highland Council planning committee, there was no requirement for a Public Local Inquiry. We believe that decision was based on flawed advice from planning officials.
“It was against that background that we initiated a judicial review. We did so in the full knowledge that the odds were stacked against us; the vast majority of judicial review applications are rejected.
“Notwithstanding this decision, we believe that by taking out this judicial review we have shown the determination of the Trust to defend and protect wild land. This was why the Trust was founded over 30 years ago. Since we initiated the legal action in August 2014, the Scottish Government has refused a number of major wind farm applications in and around wild land areas.
“We believe that the high profile legal case over Stronelairg and the public support it has generated may have influenced some or all of these decisions. We are in a more favourable position today than we were when we first embarked on this course of action.
“There are other unquantifiable benefits of the action we have taken, such as heightened public awareness of the damaging impact of inappropriate industrial-scale development in our wildest landscapes.
“The Stronelairg judicial review brought together a wide coalition of conservation, environmental and outdoor organisations representing tens of thousands of members from all walks of life.
“We believe the action has strengthened the John Muir Trust’s reputation as a campaigning charity prepared to stand up strongly for what it believes in.”