Battle lines are being drawn ahead of next week’s crunch decision whether the Shetland community should increase its investment in a major wind farm project.
Supporters and opponents are now arguing over whether the community’s control of its own oil funds could be jeopardised by a failure to move forward with the 103 turbine Viking Energy development, which stands to transform the islands’ economic and environmental landscape.
On Thursday Shetland Charitable Trust will make its fourth attempt to decide whether to invest a further £6.3 million into the joint venture to take it to the construction stage.
Previous efforts have failed because so many trustees felt they faced a conflict of interest as elected councillors, with the council owning land on which some turbines would be built.
Trust chairman and vice chairman Drew Ratter and Jonathan Wills have issued a public warning to their fellow trustees that failure to turn up and make a decision could endanger the future of the £200 million charity, the third largest in Scotland.
Dr Wills insisted on Friday they were not scaremongering by saying the Scottish charity regulator OSCR could step in if too many trustees refused to attend the meeting due to concerns about a conflict of interest.
Yet one trustee/councillor opposing the wind farm has taken umbrage at the pressure being placed on his colleagues and has written to OSCR seeking an opinion.
Billy Fox, former chairman of anti Viking Energy campaign group Sustainable Shetland, believes coercion from the trust’s leaders could pose the bigger threat to its future.
Dr Wills said trustees had been told a conflict of interest no longer existed over council-owned land as the wind farm had been granted planning permission and would go ahead regardless of the trust’s involvement.
The only question now was whether the trust would earn the £20 million a year they hoped to profit from the development.
“If we do not have a quorum then the trust has ceased to function and that will raise very serious questions in the minds of the regulator, who already has the trust under special watch because of conflict of interest problems there have been,” he said.
“It’s an entirely reasonable assumption that he would take action. He might remove trustees, he might say no councillor can ever be a member of the trust again.
“This is not scaremongering about the danger to the trust. This is dangerous and a bit scary. “I would prefer trustees turn up and vote the thing down or abstain than not to turn up at all.”
However Mr Fox said he was “extremely concerned” by Mr Ratter and Dr Wills public comments. “I believe there is a level of prejudice and coercion being pressed upon trustees which is entirely inappropriate with their positions of office,” he said.
He claimed their opinions on conflict of interest were subjective and he had taken a different view of the legal advice received.
“The advice we received from Turcan Connell on the 12 June did not convey the same message to me, nor, I believe, some other trustees,” he said.
“I certainly do consider I have a conflict of interest and will be expressing that view on the 28 June. “I also take issue with their assertion that the trustees failure to sit in and take a decision on the 28 June puts the administration of the trust in jeopardy.
“I actually hold the view that it is their current actions which create that risk. To that end I have written to OSCR for an opinion on their statements.”
Meanwhile supporters and opponents of the wind farm in the isles have further entrenched their positions.
On Friday the Windfarm Supporters Group gathered signatures from almost 140 local businesses calling on trustees to “face the facts” and make the investment for the benefit of the local economy.
Opponents in Sustainable Shetland have announced it hopes to lodge a petition with the Court of Session seeking a judicial review of the planning decision to consent the wind farm on 4 April.