Trust hails Stronelairg a victory for wild land protection

Judicial review overturns consent for Stronelairg wind farm

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The John Muir Trust today expressed its delight after winning  a crucial judicial review against the Scottish Ministers and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) regarding Ministers’ consent for an industrial-scale wind farm at Stronelairg 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 the Energy Minister in June 2014. Seventy per cent of the Stronelairg site consists of wet peatland, Scotland’s miniature version of the rainforest, which 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 released today  (4 December)  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.

Stuart Brooks, John Muir Trust Chief Executive 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 a thousand 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 the Trust 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.”   

Stuart 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. 

“Lessons need to be learned from the lack of proper procedure and incorrect decision-making by the government.”

Notes:

  • The Ministers’ planning consent was given on 6 June 2014, despite Scottish Natural Heritage objecting to the principle of a wind farm in that area due to the importance of the wild land there.  SNH considered that this development could not be made acceptable by changes in design or other measures. 
  • Highland Council officials had recommended not opposing the application if it was revised to reduce the number of turbines from 83 to 67; the Trust argued that this was a significant change in the application which the government should have re-advertised, thereby allowing the public to take part in the planning process, in line with EU legislation.
  • Lord Jones has now reduced the  decision to consent Stronelairg (i.e. the Ministers’ approval is prohibited)

Key points from the decision include:

  • The Highland Council’s (“THC”) decision not to object if the size and layout of the wind farm was reduced amounted to Supplementary Environmental Information (SEI), which required to be advertised and put out for consultation.

However, as the Scottish Ministers (SM) did not require THC’s response to be advertised for public consultation they acted unlawfully. The Scottish Ministers  also argued that this was a matter for the SM’s discretion and Lord Jones rejected this argument, but said that even if it was a matter of discretion for the SM that they had acted unreasonably.

  • That the SM had failed to understand that SNH’s objection was an objection in principle to the wind farm in this location because its impact on the landscape could not be mitigated. Accordingly their decision was unlawful.

Find out how you can get involved in our Stop Stonelairg Appeal here. Appeal now closed - thank you for your support.