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Commission clears councillors over Viking…again

TEN Shetland councillors, including the convener and political leader, have been cleared for the second time of breaching the code of conduct following a long and detailed complaint relating to the proposed £700 million Viking Energy wind farm.

In August campaign group Sustainable Shetland submitted their complaint to the Standards Commission for Scotland charging the ten members of breaking the rules regarding conflict of interest.

The charges concerned a Shetland Islands Council meeting held on 14 December last year, when the council disregarded advice from their own planning department to support an application for the 127 turbine development in central and north Shetland.

The planning bid is currently with the Scottish government’s energy consents unit. Scottish ministers must decide whether to call for a local public inquiry into the proposal.

The ten councillors in the complaint were convener Sandy Cluness, political leader Josie Simpson, Jim Budge, Addie Doull, Betty Fullerton, Laura Baisley, Gussie Angus, Robert Henderson and Allan Wishart.

Councillor Wishart is employed by Viking Energy as project co-ordinator and did not attend the meeting. 

The other nine members are also trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT), a joint partner in the wind farm with Scottish & Southern Energy Ltd, which expects to earn £23 million annual profit from its investment.

In his judgment published on Friday, public standards commissioner Stuart Allan ruled that the councillors were entitled to vote at the meeting, even though other councillors had withdrawn due to the potential conflict of interest as trustees.

Mr Allan declared: “To have frustrated the Council’s duty to respond to the Scottish Government as a consultee would have negated the statutory process and prevented all elected members from representing their constituents’ views to the decision-making body.”

The complaint against councillor Wishart concerned a press release he published ahead of the December meeting criticising the SIC’s planning department for failing to consider the socio-economic impact of the wind farm.

The commissioner said Mr Wishart had submitted the press release as a Viking Energy employee, had not attended the December meeting and had not criticised any individual planning official personally. Therefore he had not breached the code.

Mr Allan also said the council had been justified in presenting a hastily prepared socio-economic report to the December meeting, saying it supplemented the planning report.

Sustainable Shetland had claimed that the extra report had been drawn up simply to “rebut” the planning document.

But Mr Allan said: “…the anticipated benefits to the economy and employment in Shetland were important aspects of the Viking Energy proposal which the councillors were entitled to take into account.”

Furthermore, Mr Allan saw no problem with councillors Henderson and Nickerson being involved in local bodies with an interest in wind farms, namely the North Yell Development Company and the Shetland Wind Farm Environmental Advisory Group.

Sustainable Shetland chairman Billy Fox who submitted the complaint on behalf of the anti-Viking Energy campaign group said that they were considering the decision before making any comment.

In August the public standards commissioner cleared 14 councillors of breaching the code of conduct regarding Viking Energy after a complaint was submitted by Lerwick community councillor Michael Peterson.

Mr Peterson’s complaint did involve the decision taken by the nine councillors at the 14 December meeting.

The public standards commissioner’s decision can be read at http://www.publicstandardscommissioner.org.uk/decisions/decision/396/

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