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Letters / End of story?

I understand the disappointment of local wind farm opponents at the unanimous and unambiguous judgment of the Supreme Court on the Viking planning appeal, but I was concerned to see Sustainable Shetland’s chairman Frank Hay quoted as saying the group would be looking at options available to them “outwith legal action” (Final go-ahead for Viking wind farm: SN, 09/02/15).

Whatever can he mean? The objectors have exercised their right of appeal to the highest legal authority in the land and they’ve lost. End of story, surely?

I very much hope that, for the sake of the community at large, the members of Sustainable Shetland will now accept the court’s decision.

What other options might they have? Well, like everyone else, they have the right to continue monitoring the Viking project and to complain to the authorities if it doesn’t comply with the stringent planning conditions imposed upon it by a democratically elected government. I hope they’ll exercise that right, along with their fellow citizens.

Members of Sustainable Shetland are not the only people “distressed” by the long and expensive delay. Their distressing legal actions were funded in part by the rest of us – through their undisputed right of access to public funds to protect them from the full legal costs involved.

When they first instructed lawyers, Sustainable Shetland did so in the clear knowledge that the effect of going to court would be to delay and disrupt a project which at that time promised massive benefits to the Shetland people’s charitable trust.

That was, indeed, their intention and to some extent they’ve succeeded: because of the delay, the Shetland Charitable Trust and its many beneficiaries (who include but far outnumber the membership of SuS) will now earn considerably less from the project.

That’s because the government operating subsidy to wind farms is now less generous than it was, and also because the money the trustees invested in good faith, on the best available financial advice, will now produce dividends much later than was anticipated before the repeated attempts to sabotage Viking. The income thus lost can never be recovered. For this the objectors, in their “undiminished” opposition, will of course blame not themselves, but the trustees, for investing in Viking in the first place.

As for the bird that caused all the fuss, the peerie whaup or whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, the Supreme Court has it got right that the Viking planning conditions do as much as practicable to protect its Shetland habitat.

It is indeed a rare British species but it’s rather common across Canada, Alaska and northern Eurasia. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature rates its global conservation status as of “least concern”.

As Birdlife International explains:

“This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion … Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (up to a 30% decline over ten years or three generations).

“The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (less than 10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be more than 10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.”

No doubt we’ve not heard the last of the alleged human health effects of wind turbines, although it’s noticeable that this concern formed no part of Sustainable Shetland’s legal actions. That may be because their lawyers advised them it wouldn’t stand up in court.

I’m willing to be persuaded that there may be such ill effects if badly planned wind farms are sited too close to people’s houses. I’ve looked at wind farms in Alaska, Patagonia, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and the UK. I’ve seen some that were very badly planned and ought never to have been built, being far too densely packed and too near houses. But this is not a badly planned wind farm, and it’s not just me who says so.

So I hope, but hardly expect, that we’ll hear no more from the self-appointed saviours of Shetland, whose well-intentioned actions and sincerely-held beliefs have already caused so much damage to the public interest.

Councillor Jonathan Wills
Independent, Lerwick South ward
Town Hall