Let the people decide
The windfarm proposal comes before Shetland Islands Council next month for the members to make a recommendation to the Scottish government as a statutory consultee.
How confident can we, who oppose this project, be in the members’ ability to fairly represent the validity and strength of our views? Not very, I am forced to conclude, as even the Windfarm Supporters Group through Chris Bunyan had the decency to admit that “the SIC have got themselves in a mess on this one”. But the deeper issue for all of us, whatever stance we take, is that the windfarm debate has exposed fatal flaws in the way Shetland is governed.
Let us look at what the SIC has done. First and foremost it has actively promoted this project to the extent that it has appointed one of its number, Allan Wishart, as salaried project manager. Is it not highly likely that as promoters the councillors will recommend in favour of their own project as this is not a planning matter?
This scenario was brought into sharp relief last week when two councillors were astute enough to recognise that they were in a conflict of interest situation, and refrained from voting on the related converter station project, which was a planning matter.
Where does this leave us as objectors? At the mercy of a council which can, within the law, do what it likes despite the fact that The Shetland Times poll showed 48 per cent of respondents against with 31 per cent for – a clear majority at the time.
What has the SIC not done? It has not produced a “Development Plan for Windfarms” which should have been its first priority. Any proposals for a windfarm should have been put on hold until the plan was produced.
How can it proceed with any confidence and legitimacy without taking all issues into account? How can it reconcile for example its own cultural strategy with its avowed aim “to protect the natural environment” with Viking Energy’s proposals?
But it gets worse. The SIC commissioned a “Landscape Sensitivity & Capacity Study” and then ignored its findings. To give one example, the study recommended 12 turbines for the Nesting area and Viking Energy proposes 42.
When contacted, Landuse Consultants, which produced the study, was appalled. Scottish government guidelines which recommend a 2km buffer zone from any dwelling have also been ignored and, astonishingly, Viking Energy sees no need to carry out any form of human risk assessment.
The SIC has also demonstrated poor governance over its seeming inability to resolve the conflict of interest situation facing councillors/trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust. This issue has dragged on for years but was brought to a head when the public became aware that the charitable trust was to be a major funder of the windfarm project. Despite the intervention of The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator the council is still seeking advice and how long this will go on is anyone’s guess.
The final straw for most folk has been the internal strife emanating from the Town Hall. If further evidence of poor governance is needed, this is it.
It seems to me that on the windfarm issue the council has got itself into a situation of being damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. How, on the one hand, can it give an impartial and balanced view on its forthcoming recommendation to the Scottish government if it is the promoter of the windfarm project? How on the other hand, could it choose not to make a recommendation and leave everything in the lap of government?
The only way our council could get itself off the hook is to conduct a referendum and, as it initially promised, let the people decide. Don’t hold your breath on this as I doubt if the SIC has the time, the energy, or commitment to do this.
What is needed are up-to-date, clear figures on where everyone stands on this issue and our remaining hope can only be <i>The Shetland Times</i> and its forthcoming poll. Use it – and for the objectors be aware that it is our last chance to possibly influence events.