Conservationists have won a legal challenge in Scotland's highest court against four major offshore wind farm projects.

Lord Stewart, the judge in the Court of Session, heard that the proposed wind farms of Inch Cape, Seagreen Alpha, Seagreen Bravo and Neart na Gaoith planned to develop a combined 335 turbines with the capacity to generate up to 2.3GW of green electricity.

He also heard the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland's concerns about the impact on migratory wild bird species and their protected habitat population - including Atlantic puffins, northern gannets and black-legged kittiwakes, as well as guillemots and razorbills.

Unlawful consent

Lord Stewart ruled that the decisions by the Scottish Ministers to grant consent for the construction of the marine electricity generating projects were "unlawful", after RSPB Scotland challenged the decisions by way of four separate petitions for judicial review.

The judge held that the Scottish Ministers had failed to comply with their obligations under the Electricity Works (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations, in that they had failed to consult on environmental information about the projects and made their decision "unlawfully" taking account of unconsulted-on information.

He also held that the "appropriate assessment", a prerequisite of the Electricity Act 1989 section 36 consent decision, was flawed in that it applied the "wrong test" in relation to ornithological risk assessment.

Marine Special Protection Areas

Lord Stewart also found the ministers were in "breach of their EU law obligation" by refusing or delaying to classify the Outer Firth of Forth and Tay Bay Complex as a marine special protection area (SPA), and that, notwithstanding the non-classification of the Forth & Tay SPA the ministers failed to take into account the "protection of conservation interests" of the Forth & Tay draft marine SPA (dSPA) in making their decisions.

As a result, the decisions were reduced and will have to be re-made.  Lord Stewart also ruled that the consent decision under the Marine Works Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations was "flawed" and should be "quashed".

In response

A spokesman for the SeaGreen said: "Seagreen Wind Energy Limited is disappointed with the judgement. We will review the findings in detail and, in consultation with our legal team, consider our next steps."

Lloyd Austin, head of conservation policy at RSPB Scotland, said: "RSPB Scotland is encouraged by the decisions of the Court, which have recognised the huge risks from these four offshore windfarms on Scotland's internationally important areas for seabirds.

"RSPB Scotland is now keen to work with all parties to ensure we focus efforts on delivering much needed renewable energy in a way that does not threaten Scotland's internationally important wildlife.

Strongly committed

Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse added: "Scottish ministers note Lord Stewart's judgement and will now carefully consider its implications.

"The Scottish Government remains strongly committed to the development of offshore wind energy as this key low-carbon technology offers a huge economic opportunity for Scotland, but, crucially, through helping to decarbonise our electricity supply it also has a key role to play in our fight against the threat posed by climate change to both our society and our natural environment.

"Clearly, protecting Scotland's marine environment is of paramount importance: it is at the heart of the Scottish Government's approach to offshore renewable energy applications, and we are keen to work constructively with both the RSPB and renewable energy developers to ensure the sector has a bright future in Scotland."

Our position

Over the past twelve years the RYA has worked with the maritime community, notably the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the General Lighthouse Authorities, the Chamber of Shipping, and the UK Major Ports Group in an effort to limit the impact of offshore renewable developments on the navigational rights and safety of recreational boating.   

The RYA believes that the impact that offshore wind farms have on navigational safety for recreational boating can be minimised provided developers fully address navigational safety issues of concern to the RYA.