A controversial 22-turbine windfarm in a remote area of Sutherland, earmarked by the Scottish Government for protection from such developments, has been given the green light by ministers.
The Creag Riabhach scheme in Altnaharra lies within the Wild Land Areas map which was unveiled by ministers two years ago to protect the natural heritage of Scotland. It came amid growing public concerns about the spread of windfarms onto untouched landscapes.
Conservation and mountaineering groups say they are “disappointed and concerned” by the decision.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the windfarm will generate enough power for 36,000 homes and many local groups have welcomed the potential economic boost.
But more than 200 objections to the scheme had been lodged, with Mountaineering Scotland, the John Muir Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage among those raising concerns.
Stuart Brooks, chief executive, of the John Muir Trust said: “This is the first such development to be consented within the boundaries of the Wild Land Areas map since it was agreed in 2014.
“The decision flies in the face of a series of previous decisions by the Scottish Government, refusing consent to similar applications impacting on Wild Land Areas.”
Mr Brooks said the project is a “major industrial development” and will likely mean that the boundary of the Wild Land Area is redrawn.
“We are also concerned that this project will become a Trojan horse, attracting further development into the area in the future,” he added.
Highland Council did not object and it also received backing from the local Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra community council.
The Scottish Government said it expected the development to benefit the community to the tune of more than £9 million.
Neil Fuller, of Durness Community Council, said locals back the scheme. He said: “We’re one of the most remote and far-flung communities on the mainland and we’re haemorrhaging people. This windfarm money will put £125,000 a year into a pot we can apply to for pump prime projects and the community needs that.”