Anti-Viking Energy protest group Sustainable Shetland has confirmed it is preparing a formal complaint against nine SIC councillors to the Standards Commission, the body responsible for upholding ethical standards in public life.
It follows this week’s 9-3 vote by elected members to recommend that Scottish ministers approve 127-turbine, 457 megawatt windfarm.
The complaint is on the grounds that members face a conflict of interest by virtue of being trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust, which has a 45 per cent stake in the Viking Energy Partnership with energy giants SSE.
In a statement, Sustainable Shetland said councillors had “swept aside a comprehensive 69-page report, prepared over the last year and a half by their planning officials, which recommended refusal to the development”.
Instead, members had chosen to follow a four-page socio-economic briefing note “prepared belatedly over three or four days” and introduced to the agenda 24 hours before Tuesday’s meeting.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox said: “Such shoddy treatment of their planning officials’ report must be viewed in the context of where our councillors sit on this project.”
The councillors to be reported are convener Sandy Cluness, vice-convener Josie Simpson and councillors Gussie Angus, Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Addie Doull, Betty Fullerton, Robert Henderson and Rick Nickerson.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, all 13 councillors who took part declared a non-financial interest. Three members who are directors of Viking left the meeting, as did a further four councillors who decided that their declaration of interest inhibited them from taking part in a debate and vote on windfarm.
Referring to the charitable trust’s shareholding, Mr Fox said: “Given this clear conflict of interest it is Sustainable Shetland’s view that their decision was taken as developers rather than planning consultees and representatives of their constituents. This flies in the face of ethical standards in public life, and is a failure to properly represent their own electorate.”
Sustainable Shetland points to a 3,474-signature petition opposing the development, a series of public meetings last year at which three quarters of attendees voiced opposition, and last week’s Shetland Times opinion poll. It showed that 36 per cent of the 1,045 adults surveyed supported the project, while 33 per cent were opposed and 30 per cent were undecided.
An incomplete count of submissions to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit showed the application had attracted 2,300 formal objections compared to 900 expressions of support.
Mr Fox said people in the isles were “furious” about councillors’ decision this week: “Despite all this opposition, and their clear conflict of interest, these nine councillors saw fit to approve their own project, and remove the last chance of automatically triggering a public local inquiry.
“It is inconceivable that a project of this size, 127 turbines, each 145 metres high, 104 kilometres of roads and up to 13 quarries, shoehorned into an island group as small as ours should not go to a public local inquiry.”
The call for an inquiry was backed by the John Muir Trust on Wednesday. It objected to the “unsuitable” scale of the project in what it described as “one of the wildest areas in the UK”.
Head of policy Helen McDade said: “The character of mainland Shetland will be so fundamentally changed that this will have major social and economic impacts on local people – affecting livelihoods dependent on tourism and affecting property prices.
“Construction traffic for years on the few roads in mainland Shetland will impact on businesses and people’s ability to move around for daily life.”