The anti-windfarm pressure group Sustainable Shetland is demanding that the Scottish government order a public inquiry at very least into the Viking Energy proposals.
In its submission to the Energy Consents Unit (ECU), which is handling the application to build a 150-turbine windfarm in north central Shetland, the 624-member voluntary organisation makes a series of detailed arguments, from the detrimental visual impact to a lack of evidence that it will help ameliorate climate change, against the plans.
But it is the conflict of interest councillors face in their dual role as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust that is the principal basis of the group’s objection.
The submission states: “To carry out and properly discharge their responsibilities as councillors and trustees whilst SIC acts as a statutory consultee in the consent and planning process has two principal consequences.
“The first is that SIC cannot be an effective consultee, since it is the collective view of members of the council which must be conveyed to Scottish ministers by the terms of the [Electricity Act 1989].
“Secondly, the effect of councillors being trustees of a part owner of the project is to create an almost complete void in local democracy, and to deny the population of Shetland the right of effective representation which is the duty of every elected councillor.”
Not only that, but three councillor-trustees are directors of Viking Energy, with one of them, Bill Manson, chairman of both the trust and Viking Energy Ltd. Mr Manson also sits on the planning board.
The Sustainable Shetland statement goes on: “[In] view of the councillors’ and trustees’ apparent, direct and irreconcilable conflict of interest, the members of the council should recommend that ministers direct that a public inquiry should be held into the application.”
Chairman of Sustainble Shetland Billy Fox said: “Sustainable Shetland is a Shetland-wide organisation, with a very large membership; we are highlighting areas of additional local concern, especially the fundamental conflict of interest between councillors acting as trustees and developers, provoking a fundamental democratic shortfall.”
With the assitance of Ian Kelly of Perth-based planning specialists Graham and Sibbald and Mark Steele consultants, Sustainable Shetland has produced two reports, both submitted to SIC head of planning Iain McDiarmid as well as the ECU.
The first, addressing the planning concerns, runs to 15 pages; the second, a review of the landscape and visual impact methodology, is 29 pages long.
On the planning front, the group contends that the application is premature because contravenes the Shetland Structure Plan of 2001-2016, the Shetland Local Plan and therefore the Development Plan, none of which make provision for a project of the windfarm’s magnitude.
“This is a massive project by any normal standards. Having regard to the scale of the project in relation to the land mass of Shetland, and considering that it is designed as a purely export driven project rather than as one designed to serve Shetland’s needs, one might consider it to be premature in the absence of any supportive policy, plan or project for a development on this scale.
“Given that there are no details of the necessary interconnector cables, there is a strong argument that the proposal is premature pending a proper updating of the Development Plan … To proceed to any positive consideration [of] the project in the short term would involve making one of the most significant planning decisions ever in Shetland in a complete planning policy vacuum.”
The submission also argues that the windfarm “would not make any measurable impact of any scale on the future climate indicators” and would not have “any verifiable and attributable effect on the emission levels of greenhouse gasses”.
The group believes that the number of turbines proposed has been dictated by the minimum required for the windfarm to be economically viable rather than to fit the landscape. The images produced by Viking understate the visual impact of the windfarm.
Mr Fox added: “The flaws, defects and errors in the Viking Energy planning application have been clearly highlighted by highly respected bodies such as John Muir Trust and Shetland Amenity Trust. These are fully supported, endorsed and incorporated by Sustainable Shetland.” He added that Sustainable Shetland also “warmly welcomed” the RSPB objection to the proposed windfarm.
Sustainable Shetland, which earlier this month presented a petition with almost 3,500 signatures opposing the windfarm to SIC convener Sandy Cluness, said it understood that the trust, with total assets of around £180m, would be required to commit £72m immediately to the project and fund the remaining £288m commitment through debt and other funding mechanisms.
Sustainable Shetland’s full submission can be viewed at the following links: