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Council / Councillors respond to concerns from petitioners

ASSURANCES were given in the council chamber this morning (Wednesday) that elected members will be in charge of the council pursuing Shetland’s interests in negotiating community benefits from potential offshore renewable energy projects.

Councillors were responding to a petition with 29 signatures handed in to Lerwick Town Hall expressing concern over the level of delegated authority to senior officials.

Members were updated on ongoing discussions with industry, governments and neighbouring islands to establish a mechanism for communities to benefit in a similar way to previous arrangements with oil and gas industry.

Responding to the petition, a meeting of the Full Council agreed to amend the report’s main recommendation to clarify the ongoing involvement of councillors, and to assure the wider public that the ultimate decision making on any discussions remained with councillors.

It now reads that councillors “approve delegated authority to the chief executive, or her nominee, to pursue the council and Shetland interests through engagement with other key parties in future developments, and in securing of community benefits from these, in consultation with the leader [Cllr Steven Coutts] and chair of the development committee [Cllr Alastair Cooper] with any recommendations reported back to council for consideration and decision.” (Amendment italicised.)

Head of infrastructure services John Smith said the added paragraph clarified the working relationship between councillors and senior officials. This, he said, had been “implicit” in the original recommendation, “but it may help if they are clarified by being more explicit”.

Council leader Steven Coutts added that delegated authority was an integral part of how the local authority does business and formed part of its legal framework.

An attempt by councillor Ian Scott, who said he had no connection with any of the 29 signatures of the petition and heard about its existence at the same time other councillors did, to go one step further by proposing monthly updates on the topic found no support.

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Councillor Moraig Lyall partly succeeded with her attempt to change some of the wording of the report after she took umbrage at the word “exploitation”.

She said she felt uncomfortable to “have exploitation as one of our priorities” and reminded councillors that it was exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas that has brought the world to the brink of disaster.

“In response to the [climate] crisis the best we can do is to reduce the amount of energy that we use, but we are hearing very little of this, and for one obvious reason.

“The oil and gas industry, and the electricity companies are funding much of these proposed developments and will benefit from selling more energy.

“We can challenge the orthodoxy which says that the only way to save the planet is to generate ever greater quantities of energy.”

Her proposal to replace “the legitimate local and community entitlement to share direct and indirect benefits from the exploitation of local natural resources” with “the imperative need for our community to find a way to living sustainably on our islands and to enable the natural environment and population to thrive” found a seconder in Amanda Hawick.

Following some discussions councillors agreed to replace the word “exploitation” with “development”.

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