The John Muir Trust has expressed its delight after winning the crucial review against Scottish Government ministers and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) regarding ministers’ consent for an industrial-scale wind farm at Stronelairg, near Fort Augustus, in the Monadhliath mountains.
The 67-turbine development, which would have extended over an area the size of Inverness, was given the go-ahead by energy minister Fergus Ewing in June 2014.
Seventy per cent of the Stronelairg site consists 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 today 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.
Due to these errors, Lord Jones reduced the ministers’ decision to grant consent for the wind farm.
John Muir Trust chief executive Stuart Brooks 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 1000 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."
Crucially, in rejecting an argument by the Scottish ministers that the trust was not prejudiced by the minister’s decision, Lord Jones concluded that it 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 commented: "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."
He stressed: "Lessons need to be learned from the lack of proper procedure and incorrect decision-making by the government."
A spokesperson for SSE said: "We are disappointed with the result of the judicial review of the consent decision for Stronelairg wind farm. We will now review the judgement in detail and consider our options accordingly."