Councillors voted narrowly today to stand by a decision to deny a crofter the chance to set up to wind turbines on his holding.
Michael Boyes had applied to set up the 5Kw turbines on 12-metre masts at Grindins in Westerskeld, helping to provide his land with renewable energy.
The council had turned down his application amid fears the turbines would be placed too near to an ancient Yahaarwell standing stone, recognised as being of “national importance”.
There were also concerns from nearby residents who said the turbines would be closer to their property than to Mr Boyes’ own home. That, they said, risked exposing them to excessive noise and television flicker or interference.
Meanwhile Historic Scotland had argued a single turbine situated further away from the ancient monument would ease the pressure on the area.
The council’s planning committee undertook a review of that decision, under powers granted to it following the recent council reorganisation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bill Manson – who is Viking Energy’s chairman – said he would welcome anything which encouraged renewable energy.
However, Mr Manson moved against the plans, given the “potential impact” on archaeology. “I think just as renewables are planned to be a big part of Shetland’s future, at the same time our archaeology and the potential interest it holds, but also the economic impact it has, must be considered,” he said.
“This is an area that is clearly of archaeological significance. It seems to me there are alternative sites for a single, or a pair of turbines, available with less impact.”
Mr Manson was backed by Laura Baisley. While she had sympathy for Mr Boyes, she warned the council could ill-afford to ignore Shetland’s rich archaeological heritage.
“I am all for developing renewable energy,” Mrs Baisley said. “But we have got to be careful about where we put it. If we don’t draw the line somewhere we’ll end up with Shetland bristling with turbines.”
However, Josie Simpson mounted a rearguard action to approve the plans. He said: “I’m not convinced there’s a clear case to refuse. I’d like to encourage as many young people to come in to Shetland as we can.
“That’s our policy – to build up the population in Shetland. We have to make it as attractive as we possibly can, and renewables play a very big part in that.”
Mr Simpson was seconded by Iris Hawkins, but they lost out 4-2 in the vote.
Archaeologist Val Turner argued that the landscape in the area had remained largely unchanged for 5,000 years. She called for a close eye to be kept on the development, should it be given the green light.
Ms Turner said help was at hand for people looking to set up turbines, as long as they sought assistance before placing their application with the council.
“We would encourage people to come to us pre-application, when we can give all sorts of advice. Planning practice is moving more and more towards that,” she said.
In a letter to the SIC’s infrastructure department Ms Turner argued there was a potential for more historical relics to be found.
“An important feature of the area is that six stone knives were found in the vicinity of the standing stone . . . [which] does indicate that this is a ritual landscape and there is the potential for other important finds to be made,” she wrote.
Mr Boyes admitted that he had not had an archaeological survey carried out, although he had sought assistance from Historic Scotland.
He said the turbines proposed were smaller than standard units and produced less noise. “We’re off the bottom of the noise chart,” he said.
Mr Boyes had to be reined in by chairman Frank Robertson after arguing the application should be considered in tandem with similar, alternative plans for a single-turbine development.
“I’ve been charged for two sets of planning fees. I would propose we proceed on that basis,” Mr Boyes said.
Mr Robertson insisted the committee was only dealing with one application, however. “At the moment we’re addressing the application for two wind-turbines,” he said.
The chairman admitted Mr Boyes could theoretically prove his neighbours would not be disturbed by noise levels, but insisted: “Often in practice, it’s different.”
Interestingly, the Yahaarwell standing stone used to have a twin. A few metres away lies the prostrate stone of a similar size. The story goes it was knocked over during a New Year football match many moons ago.