Community protest over wind farm over-ruled

An action group has lost its court battle to subject a decision of Highland Council, to grant planning permission for the development of a wind farm on Skye, to judicial review.

The wind farm project sparked a complex environmental debate. Consideration was paid to environmental and conservation issues including the risk of landslides on peatland and potential effects on the Cuillins Special Protection Area (SPA), an area classified under the Birds Directive for the conservation of the golden eagle.

Highland Council granted planning permission for three closely connected developments comprising the wind farm development and two separate applications for borrow pits to extract aggregate for construction purposes.

In challenging the grant of planning permission the Skye Windfarm Action Group submitted:

  • that the environmental statement submitted by the developer was defective in its form and substance, that it failed to consider alternatives and flooding risk, and that it had initially excluded from consideration of the effect of the borrow pits;

  • that certain planning conditions in the permissions for the windfarm and the borrow pits were illegal;

  • that the council had acted illegally in considering the borrow pits applications separately from that for the wind farm;

  • that the Council had failed to give proper consideration to the Highland Renewable Energy Strategy and Planning Guidelines (HRES), a non statutory document, which was intended to provide guidance to the planning authority and developers in relation to renewable energy proposals in the highlands; and

  • that the Council had failed to conduct a proper assessment of the effect of the proposal on the Cuillins SPA.

    In dismissing the petition the judge held that although the developers environmental statement fell short of being ideal, the Council had not acted illegally in accepting it. In addition the developer had not breached any requirement to consider alternatives and that there was no evidence to support the assertion that flooding was likely.

    In addition planning conditions were considered not to be unreasonable or illegal.

    Although the judge stated that as the borrow pits were an integral part of the wind farm development they should not normally be considered in isolation, he was not satisfied that it was illegal to separate them.

    Furthermore it was held that no interested party had been excluded from commenting on the impact of the borrow pits.

    Finally the Court found no basis for the assertion that the Council had failed to take account of HRES or that the advice which SNH gave, in relation to any impact on the Cuillins SPA, which the council proceeded on, was incorrect.

    In the initial application the developers sought planning permission for 28 wind turbines and also for borrow pits.

    As a result of revision to the wind farm proposal, the application which Highland Council eventually considered in March 2007 was for a wind farm comprising 18 turbines.

    Details can be viewed here.

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