A charity has been hit with a £50,000 legal bill after objecting to a proposed windfarm the size of Inverness.
Power firm SSE has accepted an out-of-court settlement with conservation charity the John Muir Trust (JMT) for the expense of a Court of Session judicial review into the contentious Stronelairg development planned for an estate six miles from Loch Ness.
SSE, which initially sought costs of about £350,000 , said it was a “reasonable conclusion” and will donate all the money to the South Loch Ness Trail project.
But that move was described as “cynical” by windfarm objectors.
Stronelairg will be the Highlands’ biggest wind scheme yet, with 66 giant turbines. The trail will complete a walking and cycling route around the loch.
The trust took legal action reluctantly claiming the development would “destroy a large area of wild land.”
It won a judicial review against a Scottish Government ruling that consent should be granted but appeal judges in Edinburgh decided the case should be recalled.
Helen McDade of JMT said: “We believed the consent was the result of a defective planning process. Losing the appeal more than doubled our potential liability and prevented us from continued action. It has highlighted in planning and legal circles the urgent need for planning reform.”
SSE initially sought costs of £350,000.
Paul Cooley of SSE said: “We’re pleased to reach a reasonable conclusion with the trust. We’re also happy to be able to gift those funds to the excellent trail project which will allow many members of the local community and tourists alike to enjoy all the loch has to offer for years to come.”
Jim Treasurer of campaign group Friends of the Great Glen described SSE’s donation as “blood money.”
He said: “This raises questions about the ethics of taking gifts from an organisation responsible for degrading landscapes and Highland ecosystems.”
SSE considers the windfarm an “environmentally positive way of meeting people’s energy needs and addressing the key issue of climate change.”
Graeme Ambrose of Visit Inverness Loch Ness said the donation would help complete the final section of the loch trail.