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Council / SIC defends committee’s decision-making process in response to Viking Energy planning appeal

A turbine base being prepared for concrete pouring along the Mid Kame ridge. Photo: Dave Donaldson for Viking Energy

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) has now responded to an appeal made by the developer of the Viking Energy wind farm over a recent planning refusal.

The SIC wrote to the Scottish Government’s planning appeals division to defend the decision-making of councillors.

The appeal was lodged after applications to move the location of two previously consented concrete batching plants were refused at a meeting of the local authority’s planning committee in September.

Wind farm developer SSE Renewables said in its appeal that the council, as the local planning authority, failed to undertake a “balancing exercise” when considering the applications – meaning it “abrogated its duties”.

Among the reasons behind the refusal was the “impact” on peatlands and the environment, the “additional unnecessary disturbance to ground nesting birds” and the “high likelihood” of dust blowing onto hillside and watercourses.

The two refusals were proposed by Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall and seconded by north councillor Andrea Manson.

It its response to the appeal, the SIC highlighted that councillors have the right to go against the advice of planning officers and added that they can attach “different weight to relevant considerations before them”.

“Councillors bring to the decision-making process the broader viewpoint of the lay person as opposed to the more narrowly technical view of officials,” the SIC wrote.

“Of necessity their reasons will be less precisely expressed than that of professional planners but are no less valid in the process.”

The two applications went in front of the committee as there were outstanding community council objections.

The council said the reasoning behind the committee’s concern over the impact on the environment and the community was because it found that representation against the applications “raised valid and material considerations”.

Meanwhile the council highlighted that “awareness of climate change issues and the relevance of peatlands has indeed increased greatly” since the original Viking consent was issued by the Scottish Government in 2012.

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SSE already has consent for three batching plants and one is in operation just south of Voe, which has been providing concrete for turbine bases in recent months.

The council said in its appeal response that the original batching plant permissions “would not be superseded by those sought in the current applicants and, despite the applicants’ stated intentions, duplication of batching plants might result were the applications granted”.

“Such a consideration adds weight to each of the grounds of refusal,” it added.

But a recent meeting of the Viking Energy community liaison group heard that there may no longer be a need for a concrete batching plant near Upper Kergord due to the progress on the Westside.

However, Viking Energy stakeholder manager Aaron Priest said he had no knowledge in what sequence contractor RJ McLeod was planning to develop the bases.

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