SHETLAND’S controversial Viking Energy wind farm plan is being held up as an example of unfair planning law in Scotland.
The voluntary campaign group Planning Democracy has just petitioned the Scottish government to change current planning legislation so communities have the same rights of appeal that developers currently enjoy.
They say that if planning rules were fair, there would have been a full public local inquiry into the Viking Energy wind farm due to the level of opposition to the project.
The 103 turbine Viking Energy wind farm was granted planning consent by Scottish ministers in April 2012, despite thousands of objections from the public and organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB, The John Muir Trust and Shetland Amenity Trust.
At the time, Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said there would be no public inquiry because Shetland Islands Council had not objected.
However Planning Democracy point out that 21 SIC councillors sat on the board of Shetland Charitable Trust at the time of the council’s decision not to object.
They say there was a conflict of interest as the charitable trust is joint developer of the Viking wind farm, even though the Standards Commission cleared councillors of breaching the code of conduct.
John Muir Trust’s head of policy Helen McDade said that the SIC had a huge financial stake in this application through the charitable trust.
“Yet because they failed to object to their own proposal, there was no obligation on the Scottish government to hold a public local inquiry,” she said.
“Instead, the Scottish government approved this application – and the community had no right to appeal.
“Consequently, the biggest wind farm north of the central belt was approved with zero public scrutiny.”
She pointed out that while developers have the right to object to their planning applications being refused, objectors have no such right of appeal.
As a result anti-Viking campaigners had to raise tens of thousands of pounds to take the planning consent to judicial review.
“The huge expense of taking legal advice is unaffordable for most communities,” she said.
“It is also inadequate as the decision on whether to proceed is further skewed in favour of developers by the fact that the expense incurred is only to challenge the legality of the process, and not the rights or wrongs of the decision itself.”
The outcome of the Supreme Court's deliberations on an appeal against Viking's planning consent is expected in the next few weeks. This should be the final decision on the proposal to build a 457 megawatt wind farm and associated interconnector cable at a total cost of around £1.35 billion.