Five “independent” witnesses at a crucial public inquiry into a multi-million pound wind farm are getting £ 20,000 costs paid by the developer to back his case it was claimed today.
Dr Finlay Macleod of local campaign group MWT voiced serious concerns over a “discernible link between the wind farm applicant and the independent witnesses.”
He told the forum in Stornoway that he feared that Western Isles SNP councillors Annie Macdonald, who voted for the windfarm, and Philip Mclean were not as independent as they purported to be because their solicitor is being paid by financier Nick Oppenheim as part of his fight to build 53 giant turbines on his private estate on Lewis.
Mr Macleod said the link included John Randall, former chief registar of Scotland, as well as supporters Iain Maciver and Donald Mackay, with lawyers fees reaching £20,000.
Sandra Leece, said to command £ 1000 a-day fees, of leading UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn is battling for the developer at the two-week inquiry. She is assisting Marcus Trinnick, one the UK’s top legal experts on renewable energy.
Ms Leece told the inquiry the fees payment issue was a matter between her firm and its clients.
Mr Macleod asked Ms Leece: “Who pays your firm’s fee?
Ms Leece replied: “My firm fees are a matter of a private relationship with our client. I am not at liberty to say.”
Mr Macleod tried again: “Have the fees been paid by Beinn Mhor Power?”
Ms Leece indicated the fees have not been yet been paid: “That’s a matter I will be looking into.”
Mr Macleod: “Have the fees been paid by Westen Isles Council. Have the fees been paid by Nick Oppenheim by any direct or indirect manner?”
Ms Leece would only say “That’s a matter I will be looking into.”
Mr Macleod remarked: “ It is very unfortunate the withholding of such crucial information.
Inquiry reporter Janet McNair said: “I can’t require Miss Leece to reveal such information.”
Later, Annie Macdonald refused to say if the developer was paying her legal fees but said she would respond when she is put on the stand later this week.
Afterwards, Philip Mclean confirmed the use of the developer’s expensive lawyer.
He said: “I wrote my pre-cognition myself then offered it to the developer for comment and it remained unchanged.“
Mr Randall was the only one of the five giving evidence this evening (Mon).
He said: “Mr Oppenheim suggested I give evidence. I prepared my pre-cognition myself. I think it was fed into Mr Oppenheim’s solicitor as a matter of convenience. I certainly have not paid them anything.”
Meanwhile, Prof Andrew Bain for the John Muir Trust suggested the fragile South Lochs community would have great difficulty finding £ 21 million to build their own turbines on free sites offered by the developer.
He insisted there was no guarantee the turbines would fabricated locally and that Eishken would only create 50 jobs – just half a percent of the current islands’ workforce.
Western Isles Council’s economist Calum Iain Maciver stressed that the windfarm would kick-start the Arnish manufacturing yards and dramatically help the wider economy to recover.
He assumed it was government policy to support the yard because development agency HIE ploughed £15 million into the site.
19 May 2008
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