Review of the decade: 2008

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Viking Energy plans provoke surge of opposition in isles

2008

There was good news at the beginning of the year when a Burmese family were finally granted leave to stay in Shetland after a five-year battle against deportation.

Hazel Minn, 40, and her adopted sons Simon, 15, and Vincent, 14, from Hillswick, received a letter from the Home Office informing them that they had indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

A jubilant Hazel said of the news, which arrived without warning: “I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream. I didn’t want to go to sleep that night, I wanted to keep that feeling.

“The boys needed a secure life. Now they have it. This is a huge relief. I know my boys’ future is secure and they can carry on without me.”

It was the end of a fight which started in April 2002 when Hazel and the boys entered Britain on a visitors’ visa. She described it as their “only chance of survival”. Speaking no English herself and getting by with Vincent’s basic grasp of the language, Hazel, with the boys, made her way to the Hillswick home of her aunt Lillian and her British husband Bert Armstrong. The family has been there ever since, supported by Lillian and Bert.

The full scale of Viking Energy’s proposed windfarm became known, with plans showing that around 200 turbines would not only be built either side of the Lang Kames, but extend east, north and west respectively as far as Nesting, Collafirth and Aith.

As studies were awaited into such a colossal project for the size of the Mainland, with regard to economic, environmental, social and impacts, the letters page of The Shetland Times began to fill with howls of protest, along with fewer voices in favour.

A group to oppose the windfarm was set up, calling itself Sustainable Shetland, with the organisers saying they were objecting on both en­viron­mental and financial grounds. However, they insisted that they were in favour of renewable energy and wanted to see smaller com­munity schemes and a strong policy of conserving energy in the isles.

The group insisted there was a “silent majority” against the Viking Energy proposal, and by the end of the year had brought together over 400 opponents and started a petition, ahead of the expected submission of a planning application early in 2009.

Shetland Islands Council voted for Lerwick’s cinema and music centre, now named Mareel, to go ahead, on the casting vote of convener Sandy Cluness. But there was still disquiet after the decision, with a few councillors apparently unable to accept the democratic decision.

Another big decision taken was to approve the building of a new Anderson High School at the Knab in Lerwick, but councillors left enough “wiggle room” to change their minds the following year. On discovering that the estimated cost had spiralled to an unacceptable £63 million, the SIC settled on a complete redesign to cut £14 million and bring the cost back near what was originally envisaged.

One of the best chances to sell Shetland music to a wider audience took place at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, when an evening entirely devoted to isles musicians took place in the city’s Royal Concert Hall.

World-famous fiddler Aly Bain, along with his Shetland colleagues Hom Bru, the Jim Halcrow Band, the Cullivoe Fiddlers, Bryan Gear with Violet Tulloch, Astrid Wil­liamson and Fiddlers’ Bid were among those who received a rapturous reception from a packed auditorium.

Eight men threw their hats into the ring for the SIC by-election in the Lerwick South ward following the sudden death of veteran councillor Cecil Eunson. The Old Rock thundered that people should get out and vote, and they duly did, with Dr Wills elected and immediately claiming that his priority would be safeguarding Shetland’s oil funds and ensuring the charitable trust sought new sources of revenue.

The mystery of what happened to Sandy Macaulay was finally solved, when police revealed that human remains dredged up by a scallop boat belonged to the missing Unst businessman, who had disappeared in October 2006.

Remember Stuart Hill, the lone round-Britain sailor who ended up in the isles a few years earlier? He was now devoting his time to campaigning for udal law, which would see Shetlanders take control of the sea around them.

Not content with that “Captain Calamity”, as he had been dubbed, outlined plans for his so-called Crown dependency on the 2.5 acre Forwick Holm off Papa Stour. He promptly renamed the small isle Forvik, before taking up residence there and building a makeshift house. Mr Hill later had to be rescued when his flat-bottomed boat got into difficulties in fierce weather conditions.

The generosity of Shetlanders was put to the test once more with the launch of the CLAN 1,2,3 campaign, part of an attempt to raise £3 million in two years to help the cancer support charity CLAN House build new premises in Aberdeen.

By the end of the year the total raised in Shetland was £150,000 and the whole campaign was nearly halfway to its overall target.

There was a shock when it was revealed the Mossbank resident Laurie Ball had had a lung wrongly removed by surgeons in Aberdeen. The 58-year-old former firefighter was told shortly after the operation that he did not in fact have cancer. The story emerged after he sued NHS Grampian for compensation.

In a year of depressing medical stories it was a relief to hear the “miracle” tale of Lerwick girl Ellie Lynch, 11, whose life was saved when she collapsed at home a few months after a heart operation. A quick-thinking doctor at the Gilbert Bain Hospital identified the rare condition and performed emergency surgery in the casualty department to bring her back to life.

The fact that Ellie’s parents had driven her to hospital from their home at South Lochside due to the lack of an available ambulance was one of the first signs that emergency cover in the isles was not all that it should be.

Later in the year that was backed up by Sandwick man Alan Woodward, who suffered a heart attack, and was astounded when a porter turned up in a car to take him to hospital, instead of the ambulance which had been called for.

The incident promoted calls for a second emergency ambulance, as many people had assumed there was already one in use.

Blackwood, the company which eight years ago announced its dream of building a whisky dis­tillery in Shetland, was in big trouble. In August the company was relaunched as Catfirth Limited to try and keep its ambitions alive, and owners of shares were asked to transfer them to Catfirth. The idea was to buy the proposed distillery site in Nesting back from the bank and seek new funds from wealthy investors. The end was nigh!

MSP Tavish Scott was cel­ebrating after being elected leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and his 15 colleagues in Holyrood.

Mr Scott’s resounding victory saw him follow in the footsteps of Jo Grimond, who was UK leader while Orkney and Shetland MP, and Jim Wallace who led the party in Scotland while he was isles MP.

The first Shetland Food Festival took place in October, with celebrity television chef Jean-Christophe Novelli as special guest. That came on top of 10 fire festivals, at least five music festivals, two midsummer festivals, a book fes­tival, a film festival and various other bashes of varying importance, an astonishing level of activity for a population of 22,000.

Fixed links were being talked about again, and after all but abandoning proposals for a bridge to Bressay, provisional plans were revealed for a two-lane tunnel, complete with a walking and cycling lane. According to the council the link could be open in three years’ time.

Transport authority ZetTrans also decided to investigate a single-lane tunnel between Yell and Unst controlled by traffic lights, which had emerged from a study as being significantly cheaper than a two-lane tunnel. Plans, plans and more plans, but would anything ever happen?

The second annual Shetland Sports Awards saw cyclist Christine McLean, who had just been named best veteran female in the UK, pick up the award for sportsperson of the year. Other winners on the night were Faye Richardson (young sportsperson of the year), Delting Football Club (team of the year), the Anderson High School netball team (young team of the year) and Elaine Park (coach of the year).

About Jim Tait

Jim Tait is news editor at The Shetland Times.

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