Trust launches legal action to protect Monadhliath Mountains

Trust lodges petition to Court of Session about Stronelairg wind farm.

The John Muir Trust has lodged a petition to the Court of Session for a judicial review of the decision of the Highland Council South Planning Application Committee to conditionally raise no objection to a proposed 83-turbine wind farm at Stronelairg in the heart of the Monadhliath Mountains.

The decision went against the national interest objection from Scottish Natural Heritage, which stated that the development – spread over an area of 35 square kilometres, one and half times the size of Inverness – would destroy the character of one of Scotland’s key areas of wild land.

Planning authorities are legally obliged to determine applications in accordance with local and national planning policy when considering development applications. Legal advice to the Trust indicates that the Stronelairg decision was based on a fundamental misinterpretation by the council planning officials of the National Planning Framework, Scottish Planning Policy and the Highland-wide Local Development Plan – and was therefore unlawful.

John Hutchison chair of the John Muir Trust and Highland Council resident, said: “This legal action is not directed against the councillors, who have to deal with multiple issues and are forced to rely on expert advice from officials.

“We believe the quality of the advice itself was flawed and fundamentally in conflict with the existing local and national planning policy – which states explicitly that authorities should safeguard the character of wild land areas. Since the decision was taken, the Scottish Government has confirmed the existing protection of wild land and proposed a further strengthening of wild land protection.

“In the light of existing and emerging planning policy frameworks, the decision to not object to the Stronelairg application was, in our opinion, both unreasonable and unlawful.”

Helen McDade, the Trust’s head of policy said: “The Monadhliath area is recognised by Scottish Natural Heritage as one of the key areas of core wild land in Scotland. Stronelairg, in the heart of this mountain range, is the largest wind application ever considered by Highland Council.

“The same local authority recently – and rightly – raised objections to smaller developments at Glenmorie and Dalnessie on wild land grounds. The council has not explained this fundamental inconsistency. However, it would be perverse if the very much larger Stronelairg proposal was not subject to the same rigorous public scrutiny as these two applications.”

“We are concerned that if consent is given to building this giant development, the recent very welcome progress – towards further strengthening the protection of Scotland’s remaining wild land – could start to unravel, with other core wild land areas across the Highlands then being targeted for large scale wind farm development.”

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