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Council / SIC chief welcomes anti-Viking group’s use of ombudsman

The Viking Energy construction site. Photo taken for Shetland News at the end of January.

SHETLAND Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison has responded to an anti-Viking Energy wind farm group taking a complaint over the planning service to a public watchdog – by saying that the process is helpful for the council.

Campaign group Save Shetland has taken the council’s planning service to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over the issue of a financial decommissioning bond not being in place for the Viking Energy development.

Agreement of a decommissioning bond is required to be in place for large energy projects to ensure that sufficient funds are guaranteed to allow decommissioning and restoration of the site at the end of the development’s life.

A planning condition for the development says that “no development shall commence on site until the [Viking Energy] partnership has provided documentary evidence that the proposed bond or other financial provision is in place”.

Save Shetland initially lodged a complaint with the planning service but is now taking this to the “next level” by going to the ombudsman.

The ombudsman is the final stage for complaints about public bodies like councils and the NHS.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland NewsSIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

In response, Sandison said in a statement: “We always welcome the use of the SPSO to provide independent review and feedback on the council’s processes, which helps drive continuous improvement and organisational learning.”

Save Shetland’s Ernie Ramaker said the people of Shetland are being put at a “great disadvantage” over the issue.

He said: “We are of the opinion that the project therefore should never have been allowed to commence before the bond was in place”.

In response to the initial complaint, the council’s development director Neil Grant said: “In any development, the council, as a reasonable planning authority, cannot adopt a blanket policy of automatically pursuing enforcement action in relation to any alleged breach of planning conditions by a given developer.”

Viking Energy Wind Farm spokesperson Aaron Priest spokesperson said: “Proposals for the value and mechanism for the decommissioning guarantee were originally submitted by Viking Energy Wind Farm (VEWF) to Shetland Islands Council in 2019 and discussions have been ongoing since.

“The matter currently rests with the council. VEWF is aware that the council is taking independent expert advice on the terms and nature of the decommissioning guarantee.”

The wind farm is consented to operate for 25 years from its expected commissioning date in 2024.

The decommissioning guarantee, once in place, will be reviewed every five years and may be refreshed if deemed appropriate.

Grant said last year that ideally the bond “should have been in place” before construction started, but he added that the council would work with the developer to “achieve compliance”.