SNP - Tom Wills

Letters / There should be closer independent scrutiny

Hopes by objectors to the Viking wind farm that the site investigation works started by SSE/Viking Energy had been suspended were raised as the site works remained idle for a few days.

However, SSE/Viking Energy have now resumed their site investigation work and it is becoming more apparent how destructive this project is going to be for Shetland’s environment.

Coinciding with, up to now, one of the wettest Shetland summers for many years, diggers, tracked vehicles and drilling rigs have been and will be churning up the moorland without many of the conditions attached to the wind farm consent being applied. Hiding behind the smokescreen of “investigative work” they are proceeding with little restriction.  This work has commenced during the bird breeding season, and red throated diver chicks are still being observed on the lochs.

In your report on this work starting [Wind farm ground investigation work gets underway; SN, 18/7/19] it was claimed that SSE/Viking Energy have the required licence for the use of a helicopter; this licence, according to SNH’s [Scottish Natural Heritage] own guidance, “will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Where possible we would expect operations to be timed to avoid the breeding season”.

From enquiries to SNH it appears that no such licence has been issued. SNH claims that the issue of disturbance to breeding birds (specifically of red throated divers) has been taken care of by a bird protection plan with monitoring by an Ecological Clerk of Works. In our opinion, this provides inadequate protection for birds during the breeding season, particularly where the use of a helicopter is involved. A short delay would have ensured that the disturbance during the breeding season issue would have been avoided.

It is also a matter of concern that the Ecological Clerk of Works is answerable only to the developer, who is paying their salary. We wonder why no Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group has yet been set up to monitor all works on the site including investigative work. It should be like SOTEAG, which is highly regarded by both the industry and conservationists. If VE prides itself on being an example of best practice, why hasn’t the group been set up yet? (like the so-called community liaison group). 

As we have come to expect, there appears to have been little concern for the environment shown by Shetland Islands councillors, the planning department, and SNH, who would all seem to be in the pockets of SSE/Viking Energy.

There is much concern amongst local folk about the recent developments and we feel that there should be much closer independent scrutiny of the work being undertaken, especially by the planning department. When their attention was drawn to a possible breach of planning conditions we were informed that they were seeking legal advice on the matter. Surely that should have been done before the work started.

Frank Hay

Chairman
Sustainable Shetland

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