An anonymous complaint has been made to the Public Standards Commissioner against the 14 councillors involved in decisions on Viking Energy’s controversial windfarm proposal and the associated converter station.
Members voted in December by 9-3 to back the windfarm, with one abstention, against the advice of the SIC’s planning department but in line with a recommendation from the development department. In February they agreed without a vote to approve the Kergord station, which would turn AC power from the proposed windfarm to DC to reduce transmission losses.
Opponents of the windfarm have long claimed that because Viking, which is 45 per cent owned by Shetland Charitable Trust, on which all but one of the councillors sit, and because the council itself stands to benefit as a landowner, members faced a conflict of interest in being involved in any vote.
December’s decision amounted to a recommendation in favour of the £685 million, 127-turbine project to the Scottish government’s energy consents unit, which is considering the application. The final decision on whether to approve the project, reject it or order a public inquiry, will be made by the new SNP energy minister after last Thursday’s election.
A spokeswoman for the commissioner said: “I can confirm that we have received a complaint against 14 Shetland Islands councillors. The complaint relates to their participation in meetings at which the proposed Viking Energy windfarm and converter station were considered.”
All complaints to the commissioner allege breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct. In relation to planning decisions, section 7.12 of the code states: “If you have an interest, whether financial or non financial, in the outcome of a decision on a planning application, or a planning agreement, or on taking enforcement action, or in a Local Review Body, you must declare that interest and refrain from taking part in making the decision.”
At December’s meeting Viking directors Alastair Cooper, Bill Manson and Caroline Miller along with four other councillors – Allison Duncan, Jim Henry, Andrew Hughson and Cecil Smith – declared an interest and took no further part.
The remaining 13 each declared a non-financial interest and continued to participate. Those who voted in favour were Rick Nickerson, Gussie Angus, Laura Baisley, Jim Budge, Sandy Cluness, Addie Doull, Betty Fullerton, Roberton Henderson and Josie Simpson. Florence Grains, Gary Robinson and Frank Robertson voted against. Jonathan Wills abstained.
This complaint did not come from Sustainable Shetland, which plans to make its own complaint to the commissioner.
Last August the Standards Commission ruled that SIC member and VIking Energy project co-ordinator Allan Wishart had no case to answer after a similarly anonymous complaint alleging he had breached the code.