A CONTROVERSIAL 22-turbine wind farm in north-west Scotland is set to go ahead after a senior judge backed a decision by Scottish Government Ministers’ to allow the project.

In a judicial review, Lord Colin Boyd upheld consent for the Creag Riabhach Wind Farm on the Altnaharra Estate, Sutherland.

Ministers approved it last October on the basis it would make an important contribution to climate change targets, as well as providing social and economic benefits for local communities.

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It is being developed by a private company in partnership with a working estate in Sutherland.

Creag Riabhach Wind Farm director Tim Philpot, welcomed the decision, saying: “We now look forward to delivering a successful project that will not only generate up to 72.6MW of clean, renewable energy, but will also give the communities of the north Highlands region a lasting legacy benefit.”

Pieter Bakker, estate manager and tenant farmer at Altnaharra Estate, added: “My community and the other communities surrounding the estate will benefit significantly from this project, which will provide up to £9 million in inward investment through the community benefit funds, which will be used to support important local projects.

“The economy in Sutherland is fragile and in desperate need of investment, in particular in Altna-harra. We can now take this oppor-tunity to create a sustainable legacy for future generations in the area.”

Boyd did not express a view on the rights or wrongs of the application, but focused on the legality of the decision-making process.

He said: “In my opinion, there is no error of law either in the way in which they [Ministers] reached their decision or expressing their reasons for it. In short the petitioners’ position appears to be that no wind farm development whatsoever should be allowed on designated wild land areas. That may be, but that is a political decision and not one for the courts.”

Billionaire Danish businessman Anders Povlsen, whose Wildland Ltd owns the Ben Loyal, Kinloch, Hope and Melness estates, had challenged the project’s approval.

A company spokesman said: “Let there be no doubt – this development is a substantial incursion into the Wild Land Area between Foinaven, Ben Hee, Arkle, Ben Hope, Ben Loyal and Ben Klibreck – from whose summits this industrial scale development will be highly visible.

“These iconic hills now provide the backdrop to the North Coast 500 and the new tourism businesses that will maintain a sustainable Highland economy for decades to come. Those businesses, and the tourists who support them, are ultimately ill-served by policies that seem to afford little protection to Wild Land areas and National Scenic Areas.”

Mountaineering Scotland also attacked the ruling, saying views from the mountains including Scotland’s most northerly Munro, Ben Hope, would be impacted by the development, with five turbines standing within a Wild Land Area.

CEO David Gibson said there was no need for the development and called for a change in 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.

“There is no need for the Creag Riabhach development – there is already enough operational and con-sented capacity to meet the Scottish Government’s generation target.”