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Community / Community benefit fund one step closer to financing legacy projects

THE FUND administering community benefit payments from the Viking Energy wind farm is hoping to be able to make a number of legacy investments that will make a real difference to life in Shetland.

The Shetland Community Benefit Fund (SCBF) has just published a list of guiding principles, or priorities, that will guide managers in their decision making.

This first step in the process of finding a distinctive purpose for the £2.2 million-a-year fund will be followed by a second period of consultations to turn the priorities into objectives.

What sounds like a long and convoluted process follows the principles of participatory democracy, according SCBF chair Chris Bunyan.

It is not yet known what these legacy projects are going to be, but they will all tick at least some of the following boxes:

  • More younger people wanting to stay and/or come back to Shetland;
  • Better transport links within and between communities;
  • Better broadband and/or mobile phone connections;
  • Reduced cost of living in Shetland;
  • Improved housing supply and affordability;
  •  Preservation and enhancement of Shetland’s natural environment.

Consultants from IBP Strategy & Research have spent the last few months analysing responses from 1,342 islanders plus 73 local businesses.

Bunyan said he was confident that these priorities would ensure that the Viking fund will be of significant benefit to Shetland in the future.

“The priorities will form the basis for development of a full business plan that will detail the outcomes we wish to achieve and resources to be allocated over the initial years of funding. We will continue to engage with stakeholders as we develop this plan.”

Viking Energy owners SSE Renewables has agreed to pay the standard £5,000 per installed MW per year over the lifetime of the wind farm.

During the construction phase the fund receives a reduced payment of about £400,000 annually which is distributed through local community councils.

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Once the 443MW wind farm is switched on, likely to be in the second half of next year, SCBF will receive about £2.2 million a year from SSE Renewables.

Some of these funds will continue to be distributed through community councils but the bulk will go “towards long-term legacy projects that will make a difference to Shetland”.

Bunyan added: “There will be a five-year business plan. So, we could finance a project for half a million pounds over five years to put fibre into every household in any given community, for instance.

“If we get the right projects we could put the funding towards it, but we can’t solve everything.

“The only area coming from the consultation that we ruled out was external transport provision, as this is an area we can’t get involved with, due to the scale and the statutory implications.”

The fund will also have to look at ways to generate lucrative interest payments on the funds they are going to manage very soon.

Shetland Community Benefit Fund is not a charity, but a limited company registered under the cooperative and community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Its board of directors has one representative from all community councils.

IBP’s report on the consultation results and the conclusions document from the SCBF business planning sub-group can be found here.

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