The group backing Viking Energy’s proposed windfarm has described the setup for allowing supporters and objectors to comment at the SIC’s forthcoming meeting on the project as “misguided”.
Elected members will meet on Tuesday 14th December to determine its stance on the contentious project, which will be determined by the Scottish government’s energy consents unit.
The council issued a statement last week saying everyone who had written to the planning department about the 127-turbine project would be given the opportunity to address the meeting.
Windfarm Supporters Group (WSG) representative Chris Bunyan said the SIC had “got itself into a real mess with this announcement”. Planners had not been soliciting submissions from the public, he said, and the WSG had been telling its members to write directly to the energy consents unit.
“They seem to have leapt into this without thinking,” said Mr Bunyan. “The council’s press release of 2nd November recommended people send submissions to the energy consents unit. Now they only seem to be offering the chance to speak to people who wrote directly to them rather than following their advice and contacting the energy consents unit.
“I also fail to see what the purpose would be of several hours of people repeating arguments – we all know the arguments for and against. I would have thought, if anything at all, a submission from Sustainable Shetland and a submission from the supporters’ group of five or ten minutes would really do.”
Viking opponents Sustainable Shetland welcomed “with reservation” the fact that folk were being given the chance to have their say. But chairman of the organisation Billy Fox was “puzzled” by what he described as a “belated” attempt to gauge public opinion.
“We’re bemused by it more than anything else,” he said. “It’s late in the day and something that should’ve been done before now. It seems it’s going to be chaotic.”
According to councillor Gary Robinson, a number of members were uneasy at only learning of the plans when the SIC issued its statement on Thursday afternoon. A number of constituents had contacted him over the weekend concerned that, because they had written directly to the energy consents unit, they would not have the opportunity to address councillors in person.
Mr Robinson said: “Several folk have contacted me saying they knew they weren’t meant to make objections to the planning department and does that mean they’re not to be heard? It’s opened up a whole can of worms. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to go through this.”
Councillor Laura Baisley said she had received phone calls of a similar nature from constituents. But allowing public contributions was not “critical to the decision to be made by councillors”, she stressed.
At a Full Council meeting in October, Rick Nickerson successfully moved that another full round of consultation meetings in public halls should not take place. The mechanism being used had been news to him but “if that’s the way officers wish to conduct the meeting then fine”.
In last week’s statement, the council explained it was sending out letters to everyone who had made a submission to the planning department giving them until 4pm this Thursday to confirm by telephone or email if they intend to speak at the meeting.
Mr Greenhill said: “I am confident that this meeting will be fair and representative and that the public of Shetland will be able to make their views known and I look forward to helping this process to be as efficient as possible on the day.”
Following next Tuesday’s meeting, the council’s opinion will be forwarded to the energy consents unit. It will make a recommendation to energy minister Jim Mather, who has the final say on granting planning permission.