Discontent voiced with Viking stance on property fund
Viking Energy Shetland is in trouble with its main owner, Shetland Charitable Trust, after dismissing its request to consider compensating property owners if their houses drop in value due to the windfarm.
The company had responded that there was no evidence windfarms caused house prices to fall and it would be irresponsible for the company to get involved in effectively underwriting the Shetland property market.
But its stance and the tone adopted by Viking chairman Bill Manson in his one-page response has angered trustees on both sides of the Viking debate.
The trust’s request to Viking formed part of its agreement in June to invest a further £6.3 million in the windfarm project, which it has a 45 per cent stake in. It also agreed to commission its own independent assessment of any impact the 103-turbine development might have on people’s health.
But Mr Manson, who had chaired the trust until May, killed off the idea of a compensation fund. He wrote: “Viking Energy Partnership has examined and considered available evidence in respect of the effect of developed wind farms on property values and has to conclude that there is no evidence of a link between operating wind farms and property devaluation. The available evidence includes specific work by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.”
He continued: “Property prices are determined by a combination of many thousands of tangible and intangible factors. To intervene and effectively underwrite the Shetland property market is not something any responsible business could undertake to do and Viking Energy Partnership must conduct its business in a responsible way.”
Today the trust agreed to demand a better response from Viking. The question of compensation was first put forward by trustee Theo Smith, the new councillor for Shetland West. He joined others in condemning Viking’s response. “I’m amazed but not surprised,” he said. “It would appear that according to Viking nothing that they do will harm anyone.”
As a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors himself, he checked the report Mr Manson referred to and found it actually stated that windfarms may have a significant impact on property prices.
He wanted to know if any advice had been sought from the local experts, including local valuation surveyors who know the properties and the areas near the Viking windfarm sites. He suspected not.
Mr Smith served 40 years in the construction industry himself and had a working knowledge of valuation survey work. Attacking Viking’s attitude, he said: “Here is the problem: we hand out millions of pounds and they say ‘Thank you very much’ and ignore us!”
He won backing from windfarm supporter Bobby Hunter, one of the two independent trustees, who said: “The Viking response – to be polite – is inadequate.”
As previously revealed, the trust has asked NHS Shetland to undertake the study into health impact. Director of public health Dr Sarah Taylor has agreed to do a fresh review of the available literature on windfarms and health.
Following questioning today it emerged that the review is only the first stage of the probe into health effects that the trust has pledged to carry out. Once Dr Taylor does her presentation the trustees will decide what further action to take.
Trust chairman Drew Ratter apologised for that not being made clear in the single-page report, which devoted just three lines to the health study.
Trustee George Smith found it unacceptable that the brief progress report on what he called “very substantial issues” was merely for noting at the meeting, not debate.