Conservation groups demand greater legal protection for Wild Land after court upholds Scot-Govt Creag Riabhach wind-farm planning approval

David Gibson
David Gibson

Mountaineering Scotland has called for better protection for the nation’s Wild Land after a court rejected a challenge to a windfarm development.

The representative body for hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers north of the border said the ruling would degrade the landscape in the far north of Scotland.

The Court of Session said Scottish ministers acted lawfully in approving the plans for a windfarm at Creag Riabhach on the Altnaharra Estate in Sutherland.

Wildland Ltd and the Welbeck Estates brought the judicial review against the ministers. A spokesperson for Wildland Ltd said: “We are saddened and disappointed at the court’s decision.”

Mountaineering Scotland called for wild land to be given absolute protection in planning policy. It said the windfarm will encroach on a wild-land area in one of Scotland’s most valued landscapes.

Views from northern mountains such as Ben Loyal, Foinaven, Arkle, Ben Klibreck and Scotland’s most northerly munro Ben Hope will be affected by the 22-turbine Creag Riabhach windfarm, with five of the turbines actually standing within a wild land area.

In October last year Scottish ministers gave permission for the development to go ahead, but Danish businessman and landowner Anders Povlsen, whose Wildland Ltd owns the neighbouring Ben Loyal, Kinloch and Hope & Melness estates, brought a judicial review to examine the decision in favour of the windfarm on the Altnaharra Estate.

Lord Boyd of Duncansby found against Wildland Ltd, saying it was not for the court to judge whether windfarms should be allowed on designated wild land areas, but to assess whether Scottish ministers had acted properly with respect to existing policy.

David Gibson, Chief Executive, Mountaineering Scotland, said “While we respect the decision of the court, the decision of the minister to approve this windfarm will render an extraordinary, world-renowned, wild and open landscape completely ordinary.

“This outcome emphasises why the Scottish Government must change its present policy.

“Wild land areas must get the same absolute protection as national scenic areas and national parks. Time is running out for Scotland’s most precious natural asset: its landscape, as more and more wild land is eroded by development.

“The irony is that there is no need for the Creag Riabhach development; there is already enough operational and consented capacity to meet the Scottish Government’s generation target.”

The conservation charity the John Muir Trust echoed Mountaineering Scotland’s call for protection for all wild land.

Andrew Bachell, the charity’s chief executive said: “Although we were not part of this legal case, we were among the organisations which objected to the 22-turbine wind farm, which will extend into wild land area 37.

“We were surprised and disappointed by the original decision, not least because it seemed to fly in the face of eight previous decisions by the Scottish Government to reject major energy developments affecting wild land areas.

“We would now ask the Scottish Government to use the forthcoming Planning Bill to bring consistency and clarity into the decision-making process by bringing wild land areas into line with national scenic areas where major wind farms are deemed ‘unacceptable’ in Scottish planning policy.

“The current ambiguity in the status of wild land areas devours time and money, and can involve councils, planning officials, energy companies, conservation organisations, government ministers, government agencies, lawyers and judges deliberating over a single application. Stronger protection would also be in tune with public opinion.”

A recent Scotland-wide YouGov poll found that 80 per cent agree or strongly agree that wild land areas should be protected, with only five per cent opposed.

4 Sept 2017

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