CONSERVATIONISTS have called for changes to the planning system after a £2 billion offshore wind farm project was given a green light despite expert advice warning against the scheme.

RSPB Scotland said that its defeat in a long-running legal battle against the giant Neart na Gaoithe wind farm in the outer Firth of Forth could set a “dangerous precedent” where Scottish Government Ministers ignore the advice of environmental groups.

The charity learned last Tuesday that the UK Supreme Court had refused permission to grant an appeal against the decision of Scotland’s top civil court that the development could go ahead.

The wildlife campaigners say that the project, which will be built 30 kilometres north of Torness and will be visible from the county coast, threatens thousands of puffins, gannets and kittiwakes.

Their concerns over the planning system have been echoed by the National Trust for Scotland.

It said a majority of people feel they have no influence on local decisions.

RSPB Scotland launched its latest round of legal action after an initial victory in the courts blocking the plan was overturned when Scottish Government Ministers appealed. The Government’s decision to back the scheme flew in the face of advice from Scottish Natural Heritage, which warned that the scheme would “adversely affect” a number of wild bird populations.

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, described the verdict as “extremely disappointing”.

She said: “Perhaps most worryingly, it could also set an extremely dangerous precedent for decision-making on future development, whereby Scottish Ministers no longer need to take heed of their own expert nature conservation advisors, nor the concerns of the public or indeed consider the implications of development on areas known to be of international importance to wildlife.”

Mainstream Renewable Power, the firm behind Neart na Gaoithe, hopes to press ahead with the 75-turbine project, which is connected by a marine cable to Thorntonloch, south of Dunbar, next year.

The 75-turbine windfarm will cover about 80 square km offshore and could power 1.4 million homes.

Andy Kinsella, the company’s chief executive officer, said: “After more than two and a half years, two court hearings and two rejected applications for leave to appeal by RSPB Scotland, we can finally focus on delivering the very significant benefits this project brings to the Scottish economy and its environment.

"The NnG wind farm will displace 400,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.

“The RSPB has already delayed the project by two and a half years, during which time it could have displaced approximately one million tonnes of CO2, making a very significant contribution to the Scottish and UK Governments’ energy and climate targets.”

And he added: “Once constructed, this £2bn project will be capable of supplying 325,000 homes – a city the size of Edinburgh – with clean energy.”