Head of planning recommends councillors object to Viking scheme

SIC planners are recommending that councillors should object to Viking Energy’s controversial windfarm when they meet to determine their stance on Tuesday.

Head of planning Iain McDiarmid’s 69-page report says Viking has not demonstrated that the 127-turbine project could be built without an “unacceptable environmental impact”.

Members will meet in Lerwick Town Hall on Tuesday morning to make a recommendation to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit, which has the final say on the project. If the council objects to the application it will automatically trigger a possibly lengthy public inquiry next year.

Mr McDiarmid’s report states that it will take up to three months to refer an application to a public inquiry and “depending on the nature of the inquiry” that can take between six and 18 months. It would then take a further two months for ministers to determine the case, meaning the whole process could take up to two years.

The deadline for the SIC’s response is 19th December. A number of consultees, including statutory body Scottish Natural Heritage, have maintained their objections to the project after Viking this autumn submitted an addendum to its original application. Sepa has withdrawn its objection subject to certain conditions.

While planners believe the development of a windfarm of “significant scale” could comply with its development plan, Viking’s project could not be built without compromising the area’s “high quality environment”.

The report notes that the carbon payback of the project is “as yet undeterminable” because Sepa has been unable to carry out work on the emission losses and savings which the project would cause.

Mr McDiarmid does point out that his department has not assessed the economic impact of the project, which Viking hopes will bring £23 million a year in profits to the community through Shetland Charitable Trust, which owns 45 per cent of the company.

That prompted a short statement from SIC convener Sandy Cluness urging councillors to carefully consider the report along with the economic impact: “I would urge all councillors to read the report carefully and weigh up the fundamental issues in its conclusion: do the economic benefits of the windfarm outweigh the environmental impact?”

Mr Cluness continued: “The report stresses that the prospective economic and social benefits of the windfarm are not part of this planning report, but must be weighed up politically. That is what the council must do.”

Although the public was encouraged to send representations directly to the energy consents unit, the planning department did receive 44 letters – the overwhelming majority of which were against the project.

Among the 37 objectors are Shetland Amenity Trust chairman Brian Gregson and protest group Sustainable Shetland, while Chris Bunyan of the Windfarm Supporters Group was among seven who wrote in support.

Viking project coordinator Allan Wishart said: “We’ve only had a few hours to look at the report. A lot of work is going on in assessing it very closely, and we’ll have a pretty comprehensive response on Monday.

“I’m not saying we accept or agree with the recommendations, but on the other side is the balance of the social and economic benefits and welfare well into the future.”

Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox said he felt it was time for Viking, in conjunction with the council, to “go back to the drawing board” and try to come up with smaller scale projects which would have the full support of the Shetland public.

“I’m not particularly surprised, because I felt planning have been looking at this as the professionals that they are,” he said. “They’ve come to the conclusion that the development is not fit for purpose. I would sincerely hope that the councillors look at it very closely.”

While Mr Fox would welcome a public inquiry, it would be a “very costly, long drawn-out affair”. He said Mr Cluness was “misguided” in calling for members to weigh up the economic impact because the financial benefits are “speculative” and “far from proven”.

It is not clear how many councillors will feel comfortable participating in Tuesday’s meeting. The three councillors who are directors of Viking, Alastair Cooper, Bill Manson and Caroline Miller, along with Mr Wishart, will not be able to take part.

Others remain wary of facing what their legal adviser last year described as an “irreconcilable” conflict of interest because of their role as trustees of the charitable trust.

The full report is available on the SIC’s website at www.shetland.gov.uk/coins/Agenda.asp?meetingid=3138


Add Your Comment
  • Rosa Steppanova

    • December 12th, 2010 3:30

    Having never before felt the desire to comment on a Shetland Times editorial, it has only now come to my attention that for The Old Rock “comments are closed”. This is rather reminiscent of the pulpit of the Calvinist church, and its “three feet above contradiction”.
    I shall therefore take the opportunity to express my view on a related subject.
    I quote:
    “The Old Rock believes, albeit reluctantly, that this* will be a price worth paying.”
    *This being unacceptable environmental impact (according to SIC Planning Department) versus envisaged, but by no means proven, financial gain from the proposed Viking Energy wind farm.
    “The Old Rock” is a long-standing and honourable institution, and this decision was not made by “The Old Rock”, as Paul Riddell would have us believe, but by himself, as the present editor of The Shetland Times.
    “Reluctance” according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary implies “unwillingness, disinclination, a struggle of conscience”.
    It would be brave and honest of Mr. Riddell to actually stand up and take responsibility for what he says, rather than hide behind and attribute his pro-wind farm stance to “The Old Rock”.
    It would also, I’m certain, be enlightening to Shetland Times readers if he could explain his unwillingness and struggle of conscience, and what led him to take this “reluctant” stance.
    Rosa Steppanova
    The Lea

  • Kevin Learmonth

    • December 13th, 2010 11:21

    Financial benefits?
    Impossible to say when you don’t know cost of transmission, don’t know sell price of electricity, don’t know how windfarm will be funded, don’t have a single quote for building the windfarm.
    If councillors know different it is because they have been selectively drip fed information as project developers. Hardly the basis for reaching an informed, legal and democratic decision as elected councillors.
    It remains a high risk investment. It might make some money; it might make a catastrophic loss. Nobody can say for sure. There are so many variables in a project of this size, in this location, in an unstable political and financial environment. Government subsidies available today may be withdrawn tomorrow. Cable charging methods may come and go. The nitty-gritty details (of as yet unwritten contracts) can turn project winners into project losers overnight.
    I expect that land owners signing leases with Viking Energy will not have received a counter signed copy of that lease – because Viking Energy have so far agreed to nothing with landowners. A contract needs two parties. So far landowners have made an offer which Viking Energy is considering. If this is the case, Viking Energy or their successors can tear up this lease and re-negotiate if they ever get permission. The whole point of the lease and other “community benefits” is to create the appearance of financial benefit without ever actually having to deliver. Developers can offer anything in the planning stages, and frequently do. Finance is not a planning issue, so can never be enforced.
    As Woody Guthrie said, “Some rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen”.


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