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Council / No formal objection but big concern from councillors at overhead power line plans

A visualisation of what the lines in the Central Mainland could look like. Image from SSE.

COUNCILLORS have decided against formally objecting to plans for new overhead power lines in Shetland’s Central Mainland – but they have requested that the applicant consider an objection from a local community council.

Deep concern was expressed in the council chamber on Wednesday over plans to run 11.5km of overhead lines, with many in favour of undergrounding the cables instead.

A representative of applicant SSEN Transmission told councillors that this would cost around £50 million extra, calling it a “significant amount of money”.

The Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council previously objected to the plans and a number of elected members at Wednesday’s meeting spoke up on their behalf.

A motion from Lerwick South councillor Dennis Leask was ultimately approved calling on the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit – the decision makers in this instance – to require the applicant to “give effect” to the submission from the community council. 

The project in question aims to link Lerwick and Kergord as part of Shetland’s new energy set-up once the isles are connected to the national grid via a subsea transmission link.

Two 132kV overhead lines would run in parallel over the 11.5km distance, meaning that there is essentially more than 20,000 metres of line at play.

There are some sections of underground cables proposed, but the applicant has permitted development for this – meaning the application relates only to the overhead lines.

SSEN Transmission previously said the plans had “extensive local consultation which has helped shape the project’s design”.

Lead project manager Grant Smith said when the plans were submitted: “Our proposals have been carefully developed to minimise the impact on Shetland homes, businesses and the local landscape as we have sought to balance a range of economic, environmental and technical factors.”

The meeting of the full council heard that if the SIC, a statutory consultee in the process, objected to the plans then a public inquiry would be held.

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The planning service recommended that elected members offered no objection, as on balance the “economic benefits and the environmental benefits of carbon reduction” outweighed the negatives.

Motion proposer Leask said he felt delaying the project for some time could ultimately “damage” the arguments for wind power.

In its objection the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council claimed the impact on local residents living in the areas affected had been understated by the developer.

It also felt that the lines should be buried for more of their length to reduce the impact on residents and the wider community, especially between Veensgarth and Sweenister, as well as Girlsta.

The community council also called for cable to be buried to the side of the road away from the peatland restoration area at Girlsta.

There was concern in the chamber that the views of these residents were not properly taken account of in the planning process.

Shetland Central Moraig Lyall said she felt it was not right to “condemn people that live in these areas to these poles for the next 40 years”.

She added that from a low level perspective some people will be “looking straight into a forest of poles”.

Lyall also highlighted how a far greater length of cable is being buried for the Viking Energy wind farm project, while some was also put underground recently near Scalloway.

The councillor also said the issue had drawn the most amount of constituent correspondence during her time as a Shetland Central councillor.

Fellow ward member Davie Sandison also questioned the evaluation of other options during the process – and said it was “distressing” that organisations like the British Horse Society were consulted by the Energy Consents Unit on the application.

He added that he would have supported a motion of objection.

The final Shetland Central member present at the meeting, Ian Scott, said “this has a real impact for the people who are going to have to endure it”.

“I would think that we as a council should say we object to the development and put it underground.”

Meanwhile Shetland South member Alex Armitage felt that the visual impact over the Tingwall area could affect the tourist offering in Shetland.

“The construction of the lines completely obliterates that view,” he said, whilst the Green member added that “it seems the developer has not listened to local people”.

But Lerwick South member Neil Pearson questioned if underground lines were picked then the extra cost may be put onto the customer.

Lerwick South member John Fraser said it was all another example of “how the SIC are constrained by national planning legislation”.

Meanwhile Cecil Smith read out part of the consultation response from Transport Scotland on the application, which said the nearest trunk road was some 200 kilometres away in Scrabster on the Scottish mainland.

“If that’s what we are up against then god help us,” he said.

A decision on the application from the Scottish Government’s Energy Consents Unit is expected in due course.

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