A coalition of leading outdoor and conservation groups has accused the Scottish Government of ignoring “inconvenient” expert views on proposed windfarm developments.
National Trust for Scotland, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Munro Society, Ramblers Scotland, the Scottish Wild Land Group and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland have come together over the issue.
In an open letter, the groups criticise the country’s “iniquitous” planning system and drew of the case of a controversial 67- turbine scheme Stronelairg in the Monadhliath mountains as an example.
The project, which would cover an area equivalent to Inverness, was approved by energy minister Fergus Ewing despite opposition from the government’s own advisory body Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
The scheme is currently the subject of a judicial review after the John Muir Trust appealed the decision.
The letter highlighting concern over the assessment of windfarms has been signed by senior figures in the organisations.
It said: “It seems iniquitous to us to us that, having put in place a planning system which invites the views of statutory consultees, the Scottish Government too frequently ignores them if they prove inconvenient.”
Last night, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said the current policy aimed to strike the right balance between the country’s “massive” green energy potential and the need to protect scenic and wild areas.
The coalition argues in the letter that objections from groups like SNH should be enough to trigger public inquiries into developments.
Terry Levinthal, director of conservation and projects at National Trust for Scotland: said: “We count on the Scottish Government to have in place a fair and transparent process that ensures proposed developments are properly scrutinised and that important ecological factors are considered fully.
“For our faith in the Scottish Government’s decision-making to be restored, it must commit to taking heed of SNH and other statutory consultees’ advice and reviewing their submitted evidence in the public realm.”
John Milne, co-ordinator Scottish Wild Land Group added: “Scottish Government decision-making too often ignores expert opinion and prioritises claimed economic gain over the need to protect nature and our environment.”
The Scottish Government spokeswoman said it had already introduced conditions which banned development on around a fifth of the country’s landmass.
She added: “Scottish ministers very carefully considered all of the issues raised and all submissions made before coming to a decision on these wind farm applications. There are numerous competing considerations to be taken into account in determining these important decisions, and ministers take these responsibilities very seriously.”
Anti-windfarm campaigners have welcomed the intervention of the National Trust for Scotland and the other groups.
Highland-based Lyndsey Ward said: “When SNH do not raise an objection to a wind development it is quickly trumpeted as a good reason for approval by the energy minister, Fergus Ewing.
“When SNH actually do submit an objection, as in the case of Stronelairg, or detail grave concerns that conditions cannot be met to reduce unacceptable seabird slaughter by proposed wind turbines the same minister appears to ignore them.
“He cannot have it both ways.”