Maree Todd and Nicola Sturgeon say that island communities like Shetland have been “betrayed” by the UK government (‘Cross-party condemnation of Conservative government’s stance on island renewables’, SN 14/11/16).
It comes as no surprise, however, that this government announced a further delay in committing to renewable energy projects in these islands. The fact that government policy could change and make the VE windfarm and interconnector unviable for the generator and for the real Shetland community, is why Sustainable Shetland has described the project as a gamble – and something that Shetland Charitable Trust should not be indulging in at great expense of community funds.
But who has really done the betraying, and what is the real Shetland community? The consultation meetings held by Shetland Islands Council when it was the partner in VE demonstrated a 75 per cent opposition to the project.
A petition asking the council to reject the project, with an unprecedented number of signatures (nearly 3,500), was presented to the then convener of the SIC, who is on record as saying that if people didn’t want the windfarm it wouldn’t go ahead.
These expressions of opposition were ignored, as was the advice of the council’s planning department that the project breached planning policy, in the infamous council meeting of 14 December 2010. I well recall one pro-Viking councillor at that meeting outrageously claiming that he was representing future generations of Shetlanders; while another councillor confided in me afterwards that, in his opinion, the decision to approve the windfarm was a “stitch-up”. For me personally, the fact that only nine councillors, out of a total of 22, voted their approval still smarts. That so many avoided taking responsibility by declaring a conflict interest hurts too.
That the windfarm is often still described as controversial is notable. It always has been, and gives the lie to its proponents’ claim that Sustainable Shetland is just a vocal or even “fanatical” minority. It was controversial in 2008 when the organisation was formed, and in December 2010 when the chief executive thought it prudent to have two policemen present at that council meeting! It was controversial enough to earn a judicial review in 2012. It has split communities and families even to this day, as is well acknowledged.
Such controversy could have been resolved by a Public Local Inquiry, which would have automatically been invoked, had the council voted not to approve the windfarm.
However, given the Scottish government’s own incoherent, not to say fanatical, renewable energy policy, it was almost a foregone conclusion that it would give the green light to the windfarm – even though (mirroring the SIC) it dismissed the objection of its own scientific adviser, SNH; even though not far off three times as many individuals registered their objection as did those who supported; even though many of the concerns of objectors were not addressed in the decision letter.
Now the only option left to opponents who wished to stop the windfarm was to seek judicial review of the government’s decision. A highly expensive (for all parties, and that includes SCT), stressful, and mercurial process. Again, the fact that SuS could raise not far short of £200,000 for its legal fees from supporters (and not from one wealthy patron, as was maliciously suggested) demonstrated the degree of opposition.
And then, to cap it all, Alistair Carmichael MP chose actively to promote the windfarm instead of heeding many of his constituents who had voiced their concerns and worries, and now Rhoda Grant has joined the bandwagon. One can only imagine that the lobbying has been intense…
But, Maree, Nicola - and Alistair and Rhoda – please choose your words more carefully. It is a significant number of people who live in Shetland, and who help form this community, that has been betrayed, time and time again. And the betrayals occurred long before Greg Clark’s announcement.
Sustainable Shetland vice chairman
The Lea, Tresta