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Council / No reason to halt Viking Energy construction work, council report on petition says

Councillor Moraig Lyall, however, said there were ‘glaring gaps’ in report

A previous photo of the Viking wind farm construction site. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

NO BREACHES of Viking Energy planning conditions have been detected which would “reasonably merit the wholesale suspension of construction work”, councillors have been told.

In addition, the environmental measures currently in place do not justify suspension of the work either, according to Shetland Islands Council’s development director Neil Grant.

But some calls were made in the chamber for greater independent scrutiny of the construction work.

It comes after campaign group Save Shetland petitioned the council earlier this year to request that construction work be halted amid concerns over the impact on the environment, and for more stringent independent monitoring to take place.

In September, for instance, the developer of the wind farm expressed regret that silt mitigation measures failed during heavy rainfall, allowing silt run-offs to enter the nearby Sand Water.

The campaign group said the petition contained over 1,200 signatures, and that 500 of them were from Shetland residents.

When the petition was first presented in the council chamber elected members requested more information on the concerns raised, and a report was brought to a meeting of the full council on Wednesday.

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland Central councillor Moraig Lyall claimed there were “glaring gaps” in Grant’s report – such as the lack of agreement in place for a decommissioning bond for the project.

She said the report “confirms what the petitioners fear” – that the monitoring in most instances is not truly independent of Viking Energy.

Lyall said this is because many people monitoring the work is employed for the project by Viking Energy.

“The people who sent the petition to the council would have anticipated a little more depth and breadth in the report,” she said.

Grant said in his report that the council meets “regularly with the developer, to ensure conditions are being complied with, as required”.

His report reiterated that an independent monitoring officer from engineering company Ramboll is already in place.

The officer is employed by Viking Energy Wind Farm LLP to help the council, as the planning authority, to “monitor the project’s compliance with the terms of the planning conditions”.

The planning service can request that the officer targets their inspection on any area of particular concern, Grant’s report said, and if breaches are found the developer must rectify them as soon as possible.

The developer must then produce evidence that the breach has been resolved.

So far three planning motoring reports have been published and they have identified minor issues which have been followed up.

Wind farm developer SSE also has in place an ecological/environmental clerk of works, an archaeological clerk of works and a geotechnical engineer.

Grant said in addition the Shetland Windfarm Environmental Advisory Group (SWEAG) meets twice a year, although it has no regulatory or enforcement role.

“Its purpose is to support the developer of the Viking Energy Wind Farm in making sure that environmental impacts are minimised, that all agreed restorative procedures are implemented, and to advise the council on the execution of the approved habitat management plan for the development,” the report said.

Wind farm critic Lyall is a member of the group, but she said the two meetings SWEAG has held so far were chaired by Viking Energy employees.

Grant told councillors, however, when introducing his report: “I think the monitoring arrangements for the wind farm and robust and effective.”

Chairman of the council’s development committee Alastair Cooper backed Lyall’s views on the scrutiny of the work.

He said that independent officers should overseeing the work to at least “satisfy the Shetland community that all is well”.

Shetland Central member Ian Scott also raised concern over the lack of agreement on a decommissioning bond.

He said that “surely everything had to be in place before the destruction of our island was allowed to take place”.

Political leader Steven Coutts said he was content that the report addressed the concerns of the petitioners and he moved that the council noted Grant’s update.

Councillor Emma Macdonald, who chairs Shetland Islands Council’s planning committee, added: “This report was requested to answer the questions laid out in the petition, and it’s my opinion that the report does just that.”

Viking Energy Wind Farm spokesperson Aaron Priest previously said that independent scrutiny of wind farm construction and related monitoring programmes is already in place and is the legal responsibility of the council’s planning service and the Scottish Government’s energy consents unit, in partnership with statutory consultees like Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Environment Protection Agency.

“The council’s scrutiny of the wind farm’s construction is enshrined through existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations and planning law, and the related monitoring programmes for the project and site have already been designed, proposed and approved through planning conditions as is normal,” he added.

“All works being undertaken by principal contractor RJ McLeod, and its numerous local sub-contractors and workers, are being conducted to a high standard and in full compliance with the agreed Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) for the Viking Wind Farm, and in accordance with planning conditions.

“Environmental managers from both SSE Renewables and RJ McLeod conduct rigorous daily monitoring of environmental, archaeological and geological works, in addition to overall scrutiny being applied to the project by the independent Planning Monitoring Officer appointed by Shetland Islands Council.”