The possibility of a legal challenge to the Viking Energy wind farm proposal was raised for the first time yesterday (Monday) by a group of crofters living on Shetland’s west side.
The Aithsting grazings committee, which represents up to 40 crofters between East and West Burrafirth, Tresta, Aith and Clousta, have written to developers Viking Energy “strongly” objecting to their plans to build a 554 megawatt (MW) wind farm.
The crofters have also written to the owners of the Burrastow and Venemtry estates on which they raise sheep, calling on them to turn down an offer of compensation for siting wind turbines on their land.
The crofters believe the scale of the development outlaws it under the most recent crofting legislation, which allows land to be “resumed” for specific community-based activities.
The committee said such an “industrial” development would render the area at an “unreasonable” risk of environmental damage, and cause a “significant” loss of grazing area.
“The access roads, turbine foundations, crane pads, lay-down areas, cables, substations etc., with associated drainage systems, would be likely to have significant impacts on the hydrology and ecology of the blanket bog and on watercourses, which we believe will be detrimental to the biodiversity and value of the common grazing,” a statement said.
They added that crofters were being compensated more than other people in the community who would be disturbed by the development, which would be “unfair”.
Committee spokesman Jim Nicolson yesterday (Monday) said local crofters had been going through the Crofting Acts with a fine tooth comb to see how the wind farm would fit into its permitted developments.
The legislation lists such things as dwellings, allotments, piers, churches, schools and community centres, but nothing on the scale of a wind farm, Mr Nicolson said.
“We are objecting to the lairds agreeing that this should take place. We are putting down a marker that that’s our stance. Even though the committee is composed of people who would financially benefit from the proposal, we are firmly against it.”
He added that if the wind farm received planning permission then there might be grounds for a legal challenge to the Land Court.
“Depending on the situation (after the planning stage) consideration would be given to taking it to the Land Court, but we are certainly not there yet,” he said.
Viking Energy project manager Aaron Priest said they had consulted Inverness lawyer Derek Flynn, “the foremost crofting law expert”, who had “no problem with the legality” of their plans.
Mr Priest said that if they received planning consent, that would be “an indication to the Land Court of the acceptability (of the wind farm) to the wider crofting population and the population of Shetland”.
Viking Energy chairman Bill Manson added that the environmental impact of the wind farm would be assessed during the planning process.
“Should any aspect of the development be found to be unacceptable the project would, ultimately, fail to obtain planning consent,” Mr Manson said.
“Should the development achieve planning permission, a ‘scheme of development’ would be submitted to the Land Court, at the appropriate time.
“Viking Energy currently has no reason to expect that a planning consented wind farm proposal would be found to be against the wider interests of the crofting community, or the Shetland community.”
By Pete Bevington
15 April 2008
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