Windfarm opponents’ legal challenge fails
A final legal challenge against the Viking Energy windfarm by campaigners has failed.
The UK’s highest court of appeal, The Supreme Court, this morning dismissed the final attempt by Sustainable Shetland to prevent the 103-turbine development from being built.
Shetland Charitable Trust holds a 45 per cent stake in the windfarm development. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and Viking Wind Ltd, comprising the four developers of the Burradale windfarm, are the project’s other partners.
The lobby group had argued against the Scottish government’s consent for the controversial development.
But judges also declined to refer it to the European Court of Justice.
Chairman of Viking Energy, Alan Bryce, said: “We are delighted the Supreme Court has endorsed the planning consent for Viking windfarm, granted in April 2012.
“We can now concentrate on developing what would be one of the world’s most productive windfarms, to generate renewable energy and significant income for the Shetland community.
“I would like to thank all those who have supported us in reaching this positive outcome. Viking Energy looks forward to making progress during 2015.”
Chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust, Bobby Hunter, said: “I am delighted by this decision. The Supreme Court is the highest tribunal available for any UK appeal, and this decision is a model of clarity.
“I very much regret the amount of time which has been wasted, but of course, that is now water under the bridge.
“At the Shetland Charitable Trust we now look forward to working with our advisers to establish the best options for trustees to consider. Viking Energy is a huge and complex project, and I am confident that any decision will be based on the best available advice.”
Meanwhile, Sustainable Shetland, has voiced its disappointment by the ruling, and insisted its opposition to the windfarm remains “undiminished”. The group now faces legal costs of up to £50,000.
A joint statement compiled by chairman Frank Hay, vice chairman James Mackenzie and secretary Robina Barton said: “We are naturally very disappointed to hear that our appeal to the Supreme Court has been unsuccessful, and are keenly aware that it will be distressing for our many members and supporters who enabled us to challenge the Scottish Ministers’ planning consent for the Viking windfarm.
“Our opposition to the windfarm – and its dire implications for the Shetland community and environment – remains undiminished.
“What we do next, as far as that is concerned, depends to a certain extent on a properly considered reading of the judgment, on what options are available to us outwith legal action, and on the wishes of our members.
“Our main priority for now, however, is to honour our financial commitments which are considerable, and for which we shall continue to fund-raise.
“Finally, we wish to extend our sincere gratitude to all those who have supported us, and continue to do so, in a campaign which is surely unprecedented in Shetland’s history.”
The group set up in support of the Viking Energy project, the Windfarm Supporters Group, has welcomed the news.
Spokesman Chris Bunyan said: “The highest courts in Scotland and UK have now both strongly backed the Scottish government’s approval for the windfarm.
“The legal actions have resulted in a delay of nearly three years – and a delay in the charitable trust getting new income – and achieved little or nothing except huge bills from lawyers for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“With an end to the legal arguments, the value of the Viking project, even as an undeveloped windfarm, will have soared. The charitable trust will no doubt take the best professional advice on the economics of the project and whether it should continue with its investment and if so how it can be financed.
“The UK and Scottish governments, both of which back the Viking project, are confident of sorting out issues of connecting the islands to the national grid and supporting a new renewable energy industry in the islands.
“Finally, how long will opponents keep up the divisive campaign? When can we all begin to work together for the good of the islands and ensure Shetland gets the best and safest deal possible from the windfarm?
“An environmental advisory group is proposed for the windfarm – similar to the respected and successful one at Sullom Voe – and I wonder if Sustainable Shetland should be invited to nominate an expert to be part of it.
“Some might say let’s make the best of a bad deal – we would say lets make the best of a good deal.”
The legal battle began when Sustainable Shetland brought a judicial review against the Scottish government’s decision of April 2012 to grant consent.
The Court of Session upheld Sustainable Shetland’s appeal, with Lady Clark of Calton ruling that planning consent should be set aside. Lady Clark’s ruling also found that Scottish ministers did not take sufficient heed of the 2009 EU Wild Birds Directive, and specifically the impact on 290 breeding pairs of a rare wading bird, the whimbrel – of which Shetland is home to 95 per cent of the UK population.
That was overturned last summer by the Inner House of the Court of Session, which said ministers acted lawfully in giving the project consent. And it emerged that if a windfarm was built, that would not necessarily preclude the area being declared a special protection area in future.
Sustainable Shetland then decided to take the fight on, appealing to the Supreme Court.