Stronelairg campaign sees new developments

The latest updates from our challenge to the Stronelairg wind farm and the next steps in our campaigns to protect wild land

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In July 2016 we learned with  deep regret that the Scottish Court of Session Inner House overturned John Muir Trust’s judicial review win in the Outer House and declared that the Scottish Government’s decision to grant consent for the Stronelairg wind farm in the Monadhliath Mountains was lawful.

We are now able to update you on the latest developments leading towards conclusion of the Stronelairg challenge and the next steps in our ongoing campaigns to protect Wild Land from threats.

With your support, we pursued this legal action since August 2014, principally because the proposed 67-turbine wind farm development would have such a significant impact, reducing one of Scotland’s key areas of wild land. We knew this was a complex case whose outcome would be based on subjective interpretation by individual judges on the legality of the planning process followed by the Scottish Government.

We confirmed, after the Inner House decision that we would no longer proceed with further legal action against the Stronelairg development. We had also attempted to limit our financial liabilities by applying for Protected Expenses Orders (PEO), but were refused at each stage in the process. The PEO process was brought into Scottish court procedure as a means of limiting the financial exposure of members of the public, or environmental organisations, if a case was taken in the public interest to protect the environment. The judges were divided on whether the Trust case qualified. Since July 2016, we have been  waiting for financial settlement with the Scottish Government and SSE either out of court or through the conclusion of the process.

Effective negotiations by the John Muir Trust have resulted in a settlement with the Scottish Government at £75,000 as a contribution to their legal costs which were claimed to be more than £189,000 - far more than they had said they would be, in court. Your incredible support has enabled us to meet this from our current resources.

However we have been deeply disappointed to have also received notification on 6th April from Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) that they want to pursue John Muir Trust for costs through an action to Enroll for Costs and have declared these at £350,000 - which is three times what was previously intimated in the original action.

The final liability for the Stronelairg campaign will not be known for a few weeks once the Court have decided the final costs to the Trust and we will make strong representation around the issues of fairness and proportionality. Even without a PEO, there is a court process for assessing costs due and the fact that SSE was an “Interested Party” which chose to take part and did not bring significant new arguments to the case should mean their costs would be limited. Previous cases,  i.e. “Case law”, supports this approach.

Whilst disappointed with this decision our resolve to continue with our Wild Land Campaign continues. We’ve seen successes in ensuring other inappropriate and insensitive developments are not situated on wild land. The Scottish Government has refused a number of major wind farm applications in and around Wild Land, including Allt Duine, Glencassley, Sallachy, Limekiln, Carn Gorm and Talladh a Bheithe in Rannoch, while Highland Council has also objected to several such developments.

We believe the high profile legal case over Stronelairg demonstrated that wild land would be defended and will have influenced some or all of these decisions. Combined with changes to the UK onshore wind subsidy regime – which mean that these projects are no longer as lucrative – these precedents mean we are in a more favourable position. We are already involved in the Caplich, Culachy and Crossburns windfarm developments which have been or are going to a Public Local Inquiry. And we know there are more challenges ahead.   

On a positive note, the Trust has contributed to campaigns about major transmission proposals, in Dumfries and Galloway and around the Lake District, and the proposals for those schemes have been improved during the consultation process.

However, we believe that the planning regime in Scotland remains weighted in favour of developers with huge financial resources at their disposal. We are now working with others to campaign for a level playing field – calling for an Equal Right of Appeal for organisations like ours and the public, and also to ensure that the Protective Expenses Order delivers Scotland’s commitment under the Aarhus Convention – that there is fair process for the public to engage in decision-making on environmental issues.