Observers of the works being undertaken by RJ McLeod on behalf of Viking Energy in the Sandwater area will have noted that blasting has taken place there on a number of occasions recently.
A study of the documents associated with the planning applications for the new Sandwater Road and the main construction compound makes no mention of blasting.
A few weeks ago “borrow pit” warning signs appeared at both locations, there having been no indication of any borrow pits in that area in the main wind farm planning documents.
However, in the main wind farm planning application blasting was to be allowed at borrow pits.
To possibly get round the omission of blasting, particularly in the road application, the reason for the borrow pit sign became clearer. To get the required road gradients blasting would be required, but was not covered by the road planning application.
The plan may have been to justify the blasting by designating a borrow pit there, even though it was on the route of the proposed road.
A study of the SIC planning department documents concerning the road revealed unease amongst officials about these tactics and shortly afterwards it was announced that Neil Grant would be assuming control of the planning department “to improve communications”.
From then on publications of documents connected with the road application have become very scanty.
However, there is reference to an email (not published) from Neil Grant to the developer on 22September and the first blast in the road area took place on 23 September.
It is also significant that the construction environment management plan (CEMP) condition for the road consent remains “pending consideration” when it should, we believe, have been discharged before construction commenced.
A number of us have emailed planning for clarification about the blasting and eventually one of us received a message from Neil Grant which included these comments.
“The Council is working closely with the developers, Viking Energy Wind Farm LLP to assess and minimise environmental impacts from the construction works.
Rock blasting was identified in the planning application and methods for the overall wind farm development, but not specifically in the applications for in the Sandwater road, and main compound works.
Therefore the council requested, and has been provided with detailed blasting plans in advance of the current works, which we have scrutinised, and set measures and restrictions to be complied with.
Our officers from planning, environmental health, and roads are notified of blasting operations and attend site to monitor and measure each operation to ensure compliance.”
A key question here is, if blasting had been included in the original road application, would permission for that have been granted so close to a SSSI?
Also local residents were obviously not aware that blasting was going to be likely in the area and may feel that they should have been given the opportunity to comment on that in a response to the planning application.
Only the resident of Sandwater House has been given advance notice of the blasting, others have had to take a guess that road closure notices have been to do with that, there has been no mention of blasting in the notices.
This is hardly keeping local residents well informed and certainly not the actions of a developer seeking to foster good community relations.
This quote from the first sentence of Neil Grant’s email is a telling one, “working closely with the developers”. Does this tie in with ensuring that all planning conditions are strictly adhered to?
Frank Hay, on behalf of Sustainable Shetland;
Debra Nicolson, on behalf of Save Shetland.