DEVELOPERS of the 103-turbine Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland have welcomed the UK Supreme Court’s dismissal of a legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s planning consent for the contentious project.
It had been challenged by anti-Viking Energy campaign group Sustainable Shetland, which said it was “very disappointed” with the result and “keenly aware that it will be distressing for our many members and supporters”.
In September 2013 the Court of Session had ruled the consent was incompetent and that Scottish ministers had not “meaningfully engaged” with a European birds directive.
The argument revolved around the fate of the whimbrel, a migratory wading bird 95 per cent of whose UK population of around 300 pairs resides in Shetland.
The Scottish Government successfully appealed to the Court of Session’s Inner Court last July – prompting a counter appeal to the UK Supreme Court by Sustainable Shetland.
On Monday the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Scottish Government had acted properly in granting consent for the wind farm. It said that – even without mitigation set out in Viking Energy’s habitat management plan – the project’s impact on whimbrel was not significant.
It also said the case could not be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
Viking Energy described it as a “significant step forward” for the project and said it looked forward to making progress with the project in 2015.
Its chairman Alan Bryce said “We are delighted the Supreme Court has endorsed the planning consent for Viking wind farm, granted in April 2012.
“We can now concentrate on developing what would be one of the world’s most productive wind farms, to generate renewable energy and significant income for the Shetland community.”
Sustainable Shetland chairman Frank Hay said: “Our opposition to the wind farm – and its dire implications for the Shetland community and environment – remains undiminished.
“What we do next as far as that is concerned depends to a certain extent on a properly considered reading of the judgement, on what options are available to us outwith legal action, and on the wishes of our members.”
He added: “Our main priority for now, however, is to honour our financial commitments which are considerable, and for which we shall continue to fundraise.
“Finally, we wish to extend our sincere gratitude to all those who have supported us, and continue to do so, in a campaign which is surely unprecedented in Shetland’s history.”
Shetland Charitable Trust, which owns a 45 per cent stake in Viking Energy and could ultimately gain millions of pounds a year from the development to spend within the community, welcomed the news.
Its chairman Bobby Hunter said: “I am delighted by this decision. The Supreme Court is the highest tribunal available for any UK appeal, and this decision is a model of clarity.
“I very much regret the amount of time which has been wasted, but of course that is now water under the bridge.
“At the Shetland Charitable Trust we now look forward to working with our advisors to establish the best options for trustees to consider. Viking Energy is a huge and complex project, and I am confident that any decision will be based on the best available advice.”
Meanwhile, the company developing a separate wind farm project in Unst and Yell welcomed the Monday’s judgement saying it would open the door to further renewables projects.
Energy Isles chairman, PR consultant Paul Riddell, said: “This judgement gives Energy Isles the potential to bring much-needed income and employment to those areas of Shetland like Unst and Yell which are simply not benefiting from the current economic good times.”
“It’s also about looking ahead 20, 30, 40 years and trying to build a future for our children and grandchildren when the world we take for granted today will have changed dramatically.”
Chris Bunyan, speaking on behalf of the Windfarm Supporters Group, said it was time to overcome the differences.
“How long will opponents keep up the divisive campaign? When can we all begin to work together for the good of the islands and ensure Shetland gets the best and safest deal possible from the wind farm?
“An environmental advisory group is proposed for the wind farm – similar to the respected and successful one at Sullom Voe – and I wonder if Sustainable Shetland should be invited to nominate an expert to be part of it.
“Some might say let’s make the best of a bad deal – we would say lets make the best of a good deal.”