Danish landowner's fury over wild land wind farm
The Danish billionaire who owns nearly a dozen estates in Scotland is taking on the Scottish Government in a major windfarm battle which threatens the view from his land.
Anders Povlsen is launching a judicial review into the decision to allow a controversial windfarm in Sutherland.
Mr Povlsen is furious over the Scottish Government giving permission for the wind farm on the Altnaharra estate, owned by Jim Gray, 82, the founder of the Gray & Adams transport company, in Fraserburgh.
A "local" petition which was used to back the controversial wind farm was said to have been hijacked by people from Doncaster, Dunfermline and Fraserburgh.
Gray & Adams also has branches in Dunfermline and Doncaster.
Opposition politicians have demanded that the Scottish government reconsider its decision to approve the 22-turbine Creag Riabhach development, since local support for the project was one of the main arguments ministers relied on in giving it the go-ahead.
Creag Riabhach was approved two months ago by Paul Wheelhouse, the business, innovation and energy minister, despite being partially located on wild land.
It is the first wind farm to have been approved in a designated wild land area since the Scottish government adopted a revised planning framework in 2014.
The new rules are designed to protect the country’s most rugged and beautiful landscapes, but Mr Wheelhouse justified his contentious decision by saying the project had "popular support from the local community council and public alike".
Now Mr Povlsen’s Wildland Ltd has confirmed it is seeking a judicial review of the controversial decision and is lodging its appeal with the Court of Session.
The Creag Riabhach turbines, each up to 80 metres high, will be visible from several of Mr Povlsen’s properties.
There is a three month time limit on seeking judicial review.
Generally, review is confined to purely procedural grounds - such as the official action was illegal or improper - although the court will also sanction decisions which are, in substance, so unreasonable that no reasonable decision-maker could have reached it.
Thomas MacDonell, Director of Conservation for Wildland Limited, said:"We are concerned about the proliferation of windfarms in the area. We have applied for a judicial review. How they got permission for that windfarm God only knows?
"The turbines are definitely in the wrong place. We think there are contradictions with the Scottish Government (policies) over this. There are contradictions to other decisions. We feel it’s an industrialisation of our precious land.
"Our passion for our land-holdings in Scotland is to maintain their wild and natural beauty."
Mr MacDonell said Mr Povlsen was not against windfarms. But the Altnaharra decision had "inconsistencies" and if successful the review could decide to start the consent process again.
"If the consent stands we will consider our investment strategy in that part of the world. It would change the whole atmosphere of that area. It is possible we could pull out of that part of the world. We would have to review our long term strategy to our Northern cluster (of estates)," he added.
Analysis of an Altnaharra community petition in support of the development showed that local approval was insignificant compared to blocs of support in other places, all of them hundreds of miles away from the proposed site of the turbines.
Lodged with the government’s Energy Consents Unit, the petition shows that 166 people supporting the wind farm were registered at postcodes in Fraserburgh, where Gray & Adams has its headquarters, and nearby Peterhead. These towns are more than 160 miles from the wind farm site.
Support for the wind farm in postcode area IV27, including Altnaharra and Tongue, 16 miles away, amounted to 49 people, although only 11 adults are thought to live permanently in the village of Altnaharra itself.
Significant support came from further afield. According to their postcodes, a total of 53 people from Doncaster and South Yorkshire signed up in favour of Creag Riabhach, along with 34 from Fife. The Gray & Adams branch in Doncaster is 460 miles from the wind farm, and its branch in Dunfermline is 207 miles away.
However Councillor Graham Phillips, chair of the Sutherland County Committee - and a member of the North Planning Applications Committee which supported the windfarm - has said the petition had "no bearing" on members.
As well as owning the Altnaharra estate, Mr Gray and other members of his family and senior employees are listed as directors of Creag Riabhach Wind Farm Limited.
Murdo Fraser, the shadow finance secretary, has called for the application to be reassessed by government.
"Unless we are to believe that the good people of Doncaster have an unusual interest in wind farms in Sutherland, it appears that support for this controversial development has been manufactured by the very firm which wants to build it," said Mr Fraser.
"We know the SNP has driven through wind farms without the support of many local communities across Scotland. The ministers who agreed to these plans now have some very serious explaining to do about whether due process has been followed."
Each of Creag Riabhach’s turbines is 80 metres high with maximum generating capacity of 3.3MW. Together they have the potential to power 36,000 homes.
At Creag Riabhach, a local fund would be "for the benefit of any resident or local business within the area of Altnaharra" and was estimated at £181,500 a year, or more than £4.5 million over the 25-year operational life of the wind farm, according to the application.
It is planned that the wind farm is likely to feed the national grid in 2020.
The Scottish government said: "The application for Creag Riabhach received strong support from the local community council in Altnaharra."
Clothing magnate Mr Povlsen has been behind plans for a "world class" £100m plus luxury spa development in one of the remotest parts of the country, with the aim of creating around 100 jobs in the process.
Mr Povlsen, who owns clothing house Bestseller, is believed to be the second largest private land owner in Scotland, after the Duke of Buccleuch, who has 240,000 acres.
He recently bought the 18,000-acre Eriboll estate in Sutherland and is now within 7,000 acres of having the most land in private hands north of the border.
His property empire comprises 218,364 acres.
The man said by Forbes to be worth nearly £4.5bn recently added two more estates in Sutherland - where he already owns three.