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Election letters 2019 / Rewriting Viking Energy history

Tom Wills clearly approves of the Viking Energy wind farm. But he is effectively re-writing history, and his attitude to breaches of planning conditions is woefully inadequate (A future of self-sufficiency in clean energy; SN, 13 August 2019)

He tells us that:

“The Viking Energy wind farm received exhaustive attention during the planning process and objectors’ views were considered before the minister granted planning permission.

“The minister imposed a number of conditions, designed to minimise and mitigate the perceived impacts on health, the environment and tourism, and to reduce to a minimum any disturbance during construction.

“The Court of Session looked in detail at the wind farm and its possible effects, during a lengthy legal case and appeal which ended with the grant of planning permission being upheld, with conditions imposed.

“If Viking Energy or any other developer does not comply with these conditions, then a complaint can – and should – be made via the council planning department.”

Of the 2,772 objections raised by the public, however, the minister concluded that they were “on a number of subjects including habitat, wildlife, visual impact and infrastructure”; concerns about health impacts were completely ignored. You won’t find a mention of them in the consent letter.

The issue of carbon payback, which was raised by a number of bodies, including RSPB, John Muir Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Shetland Amenity Trust, Shetland Bird Club and Sustainable Shetland, was disregarded.

There was absolutely no scrutiny, as there should have been, of the payback calculations, or lack of them, presented by Viking Energy.

The minister also disagreed with his own scientific adviser, Scottish Natural Heritage, which had objected. This, if not unprecedented, was surely extraordinary.

The Court of Session – and Supreme Court – only dealt in detail with one aspect of the wind farm, and that was the legality of the minister’s handling of the impact of the wind farm on whimbrel.

Judicial Review is extremely limited in its scope (strictly matters of law)  – in contrast to a Public Local Inquiry – but was the only option available for appeal against the minister’s decision.

Developers may appeal directly to a planning authority when an application is refused; if it is granted, other (aggrieved) parties only have recourse to the expensive and restricted process of Judicial Review.

The Scottish Government and the SNP have opposed recent attempts in the Scottish Parliament to “level the playing field” in this respect.

As for complaints being made to the SIC planning department: why should it fall to the public to police breaches of conditions? We pay with our taxes for the department – and other statutory bodies, such as SEPA and SNH – to monitor and enforce the law, each in their respective remits.

And when a complaint – or enquiry – is made, what are we to make of the sort of response below?

“With regards to the Planning permission aspect, as you are aware a Planning application has been submitted and in such situations where a developer has lodged a planning application and this application is progressing satisfactorily through the process, this makes it difficult for the Planning Authority to take any enforcement action as this could be regarded as acting unreasonably. In this situation, the risk is with the developer, should it transpire that planning permission is not granted for the development then the Planning Authority would be in a position to reasonably undertake enforcement action if deemed necessary.”

I assure you this is not made up. It came from Shetland Islands Council in answer to an enquiry about recent Viking Energy activity and its proposed compound at the Scord of Tresta.

James Mackenzie
Sustainable Shetland