The latest Shetland Times opinion poll on the windfarm, the results of which we publish today, marks a significant shift in public attitudes towards this highly contentious project. While there has been a slight increase in support (up 5 per cent), the most notable features of the survey are the 15 per cent fall in those against and the 10 per cent rise in those who are undecided.
Whatever the causes of these new results – the harsher financial climate which is starting to have a direct impact on the state locally; the downsizing of the project from 150 to 127 turbines; the emergence of a supporters group – it hardly amounts to a ringing endorsement of Viking Energy’s plans. Although we are still waiting for the energy consents unit to reveal how many submissions were made, and the respective tallies in support and against, the major government agencies (Sepa and Historic Scotland excepted) and larger pressure groups have objected to a greater or lesser extent. When they meet this week, councillors are also being urged by the planning department to object (odd though that will sound to many, given the project’s provenance).
The Viking windfarm, if approved, will bring huge financial benefits to this community at the cost of environmental despoliation and a huge change in the visual landscape (there is no scope for common ground on the aesthetics). On balance, The Old Rock believes, albeit reluctantly, that this will be a price worth paying, but it is clear that the current scheme needs to be further modified to satisfy key statutory and non-statutory consultees. To that end, it is necessary for a public inquiry to be held into the Viking proposals. If councillors vote as requested by officials to object, that is bound to happen. It will delay the project and bring many more months of public discussion. The revised project is better than the original, but it needs to be better still and if that takes more time, that is what is required.