Shetland Islands Council’s planning department believes Viking Energy has not demonstrated that its proposed 457 megawatt wind farm could be built without an “unacceptable environmental impact”.
In a 69 page report, published on Thursday afternoon, head of planning Iain McDiarmid, recommends that councillors object to the controversial wind farm when they meet to discuss the matter next Tuesday.
As the most important statutory consultee, the council has until 19 December to make its recommendation to the Scottish government’s Energy Consents Unit, which has the final say on renewable developments of this size under the Electricity Act.
Many councillors feel uncomfortable about making a recommendation in which they have an interest as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust, which owns a 45 per cent share in the venture.
Last month two councillors – Iris Hawkins and Cecil Smith – refused to participate in a debate about the Kergord convertor station that forms part of the overall plan to export wind generated power from Shetland to Scotland, rendering the meeting inquorate and unable to make a decision.
The proposal to build a very large wind farm on moorland in the central mainland of Shetland has polarised the community, with the debate becoming increasingly bitter as the months have passed since the original application was made in May last year.
In his long awaited conclusion to the application process, Mr McDiarmid said that the planning department believed that Shetland could accommodate a significantly large wind farm without compromising the “area’s high quality environment”.
But he went on to say that the applicant Viking Energy had not demonstrated “that this development could be undertaken without unacceptable environmental impact.”
He wrote: “Therefore it is the planning service’s conclusion that the proposal, as it stands, is contrary to the Development Plan.”
The department had received seven letters in support and 37 opposing the plans, including representations from anti-Viking group Sustainable Shetland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and former councillor Brian Gregson, chairman of Shetland Amenity Trust.
Mr McDiarmid said that his department had not assessed the economic impact of the 127 turbine wind farm as this would have been a “political perspective” which was outwith planning policy guidelines.
Viking Energy said it was too early to give a detailed response to the substantial document, but added that they would have welcomed the recommendation going the other way.
The company’s project co-ordinator, councillor Allan Wishart, said: “We will respond in detail before Tuesday’s meeting, but meantime I think it is a question of balance.
“We now have the planning aspects, not that we necessarily agree or accept them. They are here and we will look at them. But the other side of the balance is what happens in Shetland in the future with the social-economic aspects of the proposed development.”
SIC convener Sandy Cluness urged his fellow councillors to think carefully about the implications of Mr McDiarmid’s report.
“The SIC’s robust and unbiased planning procedures give councillors an overview of the issues, before they make a decision which is going to have profound effects on this community, the welfare of our children, and the environment.
“I would urge all councillors to read the report carefully and weigh up the fundamental issue in its conclusion: Do the economic benefits of the windfarm outweigh the environmental impact?
“The report stresses that the prospective economic and social benefits of the wind farm are not part of this planning report, but must be weighed up politically. That is what the council must now do.”
Chairman of Sustainable Shetland, Billy Fox, said it was time for the developer to consider withdrawing its project, and added that the planners’ advice had not necessarily come as a surprise
“Planners are highly qualified professionals and have obviously applied that to the wind farm proposal. We have not had opportunity to study the report in detail as yet, but it finds the development inappropriate within the Shetland context and contrary to planning policy.
“This mirrors the feelings of the opposition and vindicates the concerns that have been raised by them.”
He said that Sustainable Shetland believed a project of the size of the proposed Viking Energy wind farm should automatically go to a public inquiry.
“If it does go to a public inquiry it would be my sincere hope that the developer would consider withdrawing the application and save a long and costly process which would most likely come up with the same result.
“Better to go back to drawing board and look at what we can put in place in terms of renwables which are fit for scale in Shetland and which carry genuine public support,” he said
The lengthy and detailed report is available on the council’s internet site at:
Of the 22 SIC councillors four will not able to participate in Tuesday’s special meeting, Allan Wishart as project co-ordinator, and Bill Manson, Alastair Cooper and Caroline Miller as directors of Viking Energy.
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