PLANS for a massive electricity converter station in the central mainland of Shetland have been deferred for the second time following chaotic scenes in the council chamber.
Shetland Islands Council’s planning board chairman Frank Robertson was forced to declare the meeting inquorate after three board members declared an interest in the plans by Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission Ltd (SHETL).
The 22 metre high converter station would cover an area the size of two football pitches in the pristine Kergord valley and is needed to convert electricity generated by Viking Energy’s proposed wind farm so it can be exported along a yet to be built interconnector cable to the Scottish mainland.
In April the plans were deferred because the planning board had no confidence in the carbon payback model being presented by the developers.
The board wanted to wait until a decision was taken by the Scottish government on the 457megawatt wind farm, which would deal with the carbon payback issue.
That decision will not be made until next year, but on Wednesday planning officers recommended the converter station be approved after receiving representations from the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
SEPA said that although they had not carried out a detailed technical audit about the carbon payback figures presented by SHETL, they had reviewed them and believed “the applicant has considered the likely effects in a balanced and reasonable manner”.
This was not good enough for councillors Cecil Smith and Iris Hawkins, who declared an interest in the development because of their close connection to the wind farm. As trustees on Shetland Charitable Trust they are joint Viking Energy developers, and as councillors they own land where the turbines will be erected.
Councillor Bill Manson had already declared an interest and left the meeting as he is chairman of Viking Energy and Shetland Charitable Trust.
The planning board chairman attempted to reassure members that they were allowed to debate and vote on applications in which the council is involved under new planning advice from the Scottish government.
But then he adjourned the meeting for 15 minutes and ejected the public from the chamber to discuss the legal issues at stake.
When the meeting reconvened, councillors Smith and Hawkins reaffirmed their wish to declare an interest stating it was due to their close connection to the wind farm development.
They also pointed to the previous decision in April to wait until the wind farm had been approved first before considering the converter station.
Afterwards, anti Viking Energy campaigners condemned councillor Robertson’s decision to adjourn the meeting, describing it as “highly irregular”.
Chairman of campaign group Sustainable Shetland, Billy Fox, said: “I can’t understand why they did not follow normal procedure and simply move on to the next item if they were inquorate.
“It shows that there is a political will working on this project that is altogether unsavoury.”
Applauding councillors Smith and Hawkins, he added: “The one positive aspect I take out of this is that despite the council’s performance, there are members within it that know what being a councillor means. That gives me hope for the council’s future.”
Councillor Robertson insisted that the 15 minute adjournment had been solely to clarify the legal issues.
Admitting that councillors felt a great deal of “uncertainty” about the entire wind farm proposal, he said the council’s chief legal officer Jan Riise had felt it important that members be clear why they were declaring an interest.
“Cecil and Iris had not declared the reason for their declaration of an interest and Jan wanted them to make it absolutely clear that it was because of the link with Viking Energy,” He said.
Mr Fox described this as “absolute nonsense”. He said: “They were desperate to get that meeting made quorate.”
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