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Battle against Viking far from over

More than 170 islanders attending Tuesday night's Sustainable Shetland meeting - Photo: Ivan Hawick

MORE than 170 concerned islanders packed Tingwall public hall on Tuesday night to explore how campaign group Sustainable Shetland can maintain its opposition to the controversial Viking Energy wind farm after it received planning consent last week.

The upbeat meeting, chaired by council election candidate Billy Fox, agreed the campaign against the 103 turbine development in the centre of Shetland was far from over.

It also showed the gulf between supporters and opponents of the 370 megawatt wind farm project remains as deep as ever, with last week’s planning decision further fuelling strong emotions.

Mr Fox assured those present that they had no reason to “despair” as Viking Energy still had “mountains to climb” before the project could go ahead, including whether or not energy regulator Ofgem gave the green light for an interconnector.

Islander after islander stood up to speak about their concern and frustration that their voice had not been listened to by councillors, trustees and government ministers.

In a short presentation, vice chairman Allan Fraser reiterated the widely held view that the wind farm was the “wrong project in the wrong place” and said that councillors, acting as trustees and part owners of the project had “failed to represent their constituencies”.

He said that of the 103 turbines approved by energy minister Fergus Ewing 61 would be within two kilometres of dwellings, and he condemned the broken promise of a health impact study.

A short recording from a 2008 BBC Radio Shetland Speakeasy discussion programme caused some hilarity when councillor Allan Wishart, who subsequently became Viking Energy’s project coordinator, assured islanders that no decision on the wind farm would be taken until the outcome of a public health impact assessment and environmental impact assessment was known.

And referring to Tuesday’s news that the Shetland Community Benefit Fund Co-operative was now seeking talks with Viking Energy, Mr Fraser said that the “dash for cash” had already begun “on a project we were told would not happen if we didn’t want it”.

The meeting agreed to:

  • explore whether there is a case for a judicial review that would look into the lawfulness of the five year long process that led to last week’s planning consent;
  • investigate any other legal avenue open to the group, ranging from crofting law to the European Court of Human Rights;
  • lobby councillors/trustees who have been asked to attend Monday’s re-scheduled meeting of the Shetland Charitable Trust, a 45 per cent shareholder in the project, to release £6.3 million of additional funding;
  • keep the pressure up by raising the public profile of the 800+ member group and making more noise by “shouting from the roof tops”.

Weisdale crofter Agnes Leask said that as a charity Sustainable Shetland should apply to the charitable trust for them to help cover the group’s legal costs.

Mr Fox told the meeting that Shetland Islands Council could have triggered a public inquiry into the whole project, but they had chosen to go against its own planning department’s recommendations in December 2010 when just nine elected members voted in favour of the wind farm development.

He said that should he be elected as a councillor next month he would step back from the chairmanship of Sustainable Shetland and called on those present to come forward and become more active in running the group.