The Shetland Times is to carry out a follow-up to its poll of last year on public opinion in the isles toward Viking Energy’s proposed windfarm. With the publication of Viking’s revised planning application and the council’s decision not to hold a further round of public meetings on this most divisive of issues, the time is ripe to gauge people’s views in a properly weighted and scientific manner once again. We shall ask only the one question this time around – in favour or against – and aim to publish the results in time for the meeting in December at which councillors are expected to give a view on the project.
Wednesday’s non-meeting of the planning board to decide on SHETL’s application for a converter station at Kergord underlined, for the first time in such an open public forum, the jitters felt by some councillors about the conflict of interest they face in declaring just such a view. When it comes to planning decisions, their code of conduct states that they must not make public statements about a pending application to ensure they are not seen to be prejudging a decision. Voting for or against the converter station – given that its sole purpose is to transmit electricity – could be construed as indicating in advance a view on the application for the windfarm itself, although officials advise that this is not the case.
Perhaps more fatefully for the project, this leads on to the question of whether in their simultaneous roles as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust, councillors can make a decision at all on the windfarm application, even if it is only advisory to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit. Section 7.7 of the code states: “If you have an interest, whether financial, non financial, or personal, in the outcome of a decision on a planning application, or a planning agreement, or on taking enforcement action, you must declare that interest and refrain from taking part in the consideration of the application.” Councillors have an interest here, as trustees. It will be up to them as individuals to decide the way forward through the thicket.