By JOHN ROBERTSON
The team in charge of the planning process for the Viking windfarm application has confirmed that objectors have just one month to make their submissions.
There has been considerable confusion about the process, prompting the protest group Sustainable Shetland to complain about the lack of time to digest and comment on the mass of information made available only last week in support of Viking Energy’s planning application.
Advice yesterday from the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit in Glasgow is that comments have to be lodged with it by 30th June. Clarification was sought by the SIC planning department and head of planning Iain McDiarmid issued new guidance in an attempt to clear up the confusion.
Shetland Islands Council is carrying out the official consultation on the application on the consent unit’s behalf and it has four months to give its response to the proposals.
Comments to the unit from members of the public can be made online as well as by letter and comments can also go to the SIC planning offices at Grantfield in Lerwick and will eventually be accepted by email once a link is set up.
Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson urged anyone with concerns about not having enough time to approach the planners to seek extensions.
The SIC is one of the statutory consultees under the rules of the so-called section 36 consent process and, according to the consent unit’s website, it is entitled to apply for an extension, which would have to be agreed by Scottish ministers and the Viking Energy Partnership.
The consents unit website contradicts the advice given to the council on submissions from the public, stating that they will be accepted and considered by it up until the date the SIC submits its official response.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox said the group hoped to have its objections lodged within the statutory time limit and was not making a big issue of the short time frame. But he warned other opponents that failing to object would be seen as support for the windfarm. “Silence is sanction,” he stated.
The group’s website will carry a sample letter for objectors to copy and one will be included in a leaflet being sent to every house in Shetland.
Outlining his opposition to the windfarm, he said: “The spectre of this development is, in my view, the most serious and damaging proposal I have seen in Shetland in my lifetime, in terms of environmental damage, financial risk and quality of life for us all. This project simply must not happen.”
Mr Manson expects it will be at least a year before the outcome of the planning process is known, possibly two years. He said: “Scottish ministers are now beginning to work towards a target of nine months for these things. History says nearer two years. I think the intentions are good but I will be pleasantly surprised if it appears in a year to 15 months. If there is a public inquiry, add nine months or a year.”
A Scottish Government spokesman declined to speculate this week whether ministers were likely to be minded to call a public inquiry into the windfarm application.
According to the consent unit’s website, if the SIC or another statutory body (Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) object to the windfarm, Scottish ministers would refer it to a public local inquiry, a process they might also choose to invoke if they considered it in the public interest.
The section 36 process differs from the normal planning application process in a number of ways, one of which is the extra room to allow a proposal to be rejigged to take account of particular objections. It is widely expected that the Viking proposal will draw most flak for the visual intrusion of the giant turbines on the landscape and the daily lives of locals and people passing through. Although the scale of the development has already been reduced from 192 turbines to 150, Mr Manson admitted there was potentially still scope for more pruning of turbines. But by how many is not known at this stage because it is not clear what the minimum power output will be to make the transmitting cable a viable project for the builders, SSE’s subsidiary Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Limited (SHETL), and to secure permission from the electricity market regulator Ofgem, which keeps prices to a minimum for consumers.
He said there was clearly room to reduce turbines but major surgery could mean having to revisit the whole environmental impact assessment with all the work that would involve.