Work on erecting a data mast on a hill at Kergord as part of research related to Viking Energy’s proposed windfarm has resumed after the council’s planning department confirmed it had given approval for the work to go ahead – a day after a peaceful protest by Sustainable Shetland halted the installation.
Viking Energy was given permission to install three 70m meteorological masts last month but confusion sprung up over the fact that during the meeting at which approval was granted, SIC service manager John Holden informed planning board chairman Frank Robertson that an additional condition “would ensure no activity in the area during the bird breeding season”.
The breeding season is deemed to be between 1st April and 31st August and, after council planning officials approved a “construction method statement” allowing work to commence on 25th May, Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox said there appeared to have been a contravention of the condition attached back in April. He is accusing the planning department of performing “a complete U-turn” by approving the works.
Two of the three masts, at Runn Hill, Nesting, and the Mid Kames, near Voe, were installed last week before Sustainable Shetland – which opposes the Viking Energy project – was informed and got in touch with planners.
The specialist mainland contractor suspended work on Sunday morning after a small delegation of activists arrived at Kergord, where the third mast was to be erected on Scalla Field hill, to highlight what they saw as a breach of the decision reached by the planning board.
But the contractor resumed work on Monday after Mr Holden issued a response explaining that consultation had been carried out with an ornithologist and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) before the works were allowed to go ahead.
Mr Holden wrote: “The conditions imposed sought to ensure that regard was had to bird interests in the area of the proposed development, with the restrictions to apply being proportionate to the risk. It has been established through relevant submissions, and with a walkover inspection by an expert in the field, that no Schedule 1 bird interests exist to be affected within acknowledged distances.
“Had bird interests been found to exist it will have been inappropriate for works to take place. SNH were consulted over the proposed construction method statement, which included timing, and were content provided that advice from the on-site ornithologist is followed. The experts on both sides are satisfied that there will be no unacceptable impacts on rare breeding bird species’ interests, and therefore no public interest would be served in preventing the development proceeding on the basis of the evidence available.”
But Mr Fox accused the planners of going back on what had been agreed by members of the planning board in April. In direct response to Mr Holden’s statement, he said: “Your clarification is no such thing but is instead a complete U-turn on what was passed at the planning board meeting. If planning board members have been consulted on this and concur with your ‘clarification’ then you have all moved the goalposts.”
Mr Fox added that he felt the planners’ focus on disturbance of Schedule 1 birds only was “unacceptable” because it should apply to all species.
The masts are being installed as part of research ahead of what Viking hopes will be a huge windfarm in the central and north mainland. The company has previously been criticised for not complying with planning conditions when an old mast remained in place after consent ran out in 2008.
Earlier, Viking Energy director Allan Wishart explained that the company had been “certain” it had the necessary permission to erect the masts but had decided to delay further work until concerns had been allayed. “The best thing was to calm it down and pull out, the [contractor] is quite anxious to get on but also anxious to get it clarified.”
Mr Fox said the protest had been “very amicable”. The contractor working on the job had felt “uncomfortable” after being shown minutes of the planning board meeting and decided to halt work on the masts until the planning department could clarify the decision.