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Conflicts of interest stall extra Viking cash

SHETLAND Charitable Trust was unable to release £420,000 to continue developing plans for a huge wind farm in Shetland on Thursday, because too few trustees were able to vote on the issue.

Viking Energy Ltd, the trust-owned partner in the 457 megawatt project, asked for the extra cash on top of the £3 million the trust has already set aside for the project.

However while 15 of the 23 trustees were present at the meeting, eight felt unable to participate due to conflicts of interest as trustees or directors of Viking Energy.

With just seven trustees willing to vote on the matter, the trust was well short of its quorum of 12 and therefore could make no decision.

The trust’s difficulties were applauded by the 15 members of anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland who attended the meeting as observers.

The group’s acting chairman Kevin Learmonth acknowledged the decision had been stalled by default, but claimed that such problems should alert the Scottish government to some of the difficulties surrounding the venture.

“It is interesting to see that the owners of the company that proposes this project and has put in a planning application, feel unable to put more money into it. That speaks volumes and must be concerning for the energy minister,” Mr Learmonth said.

“They feel unable to discuss their own project because they are both councillors and developers. They should have seen this coming. It highlights again the urgent need to reform the charitable trust.”

Trust chairman Bill Manson, who also chairs the VEL board of directors, agreed that such problems were not likely to go away until the charitable trust is reformed.

“We have never had an easy decision on this matter in the past and it will remain that way until we have the governance of the trust sorted out,” he said.

Trust reform is now moving ahead after itself being stalled for the past year while further legal advice was sought and proposals are likely to come forward in September.

After the meeting the trust’s vice chairman Jim Henry said the turnout had been low due to trustees being away on business or holiday.

“We are hopeful that a decision can be made at a future meeting of the trust before there are any financial implications for Viking Energy Ltd,” he said.

As well as VEL directors Mr Manson, Alastair Cooper and Caroline Miller, the trustees who declared an interest were Cecil Smith, Rick Nickerson, Allison Duncan, Frank Robertson and Gary Robinson.

Meanwhile the plans to build the 127 turbine wind farm could be presented to Scottish ministers during August after the developers and Scottish Natural Heritage finish debating their ornitholical differences.

The government will have to decide whether the project should be put to a public local inquiry before a final adjudication is made.