While the attention of many will be focused on Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ next week, those gathered in an Edinburgh court room will have their minds on a different sort of Viking.
Tuesday will be the first day of the Court of Session’s judicial review of Scottish ministers’ decision to grant consent for Viking Energy’s controversial 103-turbine windfarm.
Protest group Sustainable Shetland, which represents more than 800 members, petitioned the court because it believes Scottish ministers acted unlawfully in approving the project without staging a public local inquiry.
Four days have been set aside at the Court of Session, though it is possible the judicial review could run into the following week. The hearing will begin with evidence from Sustainable Shetland’s legal team, followed by a response from government lawyers. Although it is not the respondent, Viking Energy has also chosen to be represented and will give its evidence last.
Should the judge accept the petition in full and quash consent for the project, it could result in the Scottish government triggering the public inquiry which campaigners have persistently called for.
However, the judge may reject the petition, meaning Viking Energy would be free to continue the next stages of development, or order a course of action somewhere in between.
It is possible the judge’s ruling may not be published for several weeks after the hearing concludes.
Sustainable Shetland chairman Andrew Halcrow told The Shetland Times that the group had put forward nine main points of argument.
Among its grounds for launching the legal challenge are the potential impact on the Shetland landscape and on protected bird species, disturbance of peat bogs and the fact that pleas for an inquiry were not heeded. The organisation also points out that the government’s energy consents unit received 2,772 objections, compared to 1,115 submissions in support.
“We’re obviously hoping for a successful outcome for us,” Mr Halcrow said. “That decision lies with the judge – he has to weigh up the evidence and decide whether the minister acted unlawfully or not.”
A Viking Energy spokesman said the company could not comment on particular details of the case while the legal process was ongoing.
He added: “However, we think the Scottish government and ourselves have a robust case to argue. In the meantime we will continue to work towards delivering the project and the significant benefits to Shetland that would follow.”
Energy minister Fergus Ewing gave the project the green light last April after civil servants had spent over a year examining the application.
Sustainable Shetland lodged its petition calling for a judicial review in July, later in the year securing a protective order capping its financial liability – should it lose the case – at £5,000. If it wins, Sustainable Shetland will be able to claim up to £30,000 from the Scottish government.
In an advert in today’s newspaper, Sustainable Shetland is appealing to those who support its cause to make a financial contribution towards the cost of preparing and making its case. Should the group raise more money than it requires, it will offer proportionate refunds to its backers.