Around 350 Shetlanders turned out on a miserable Saturday morning to express their opposition to plans for a huge wind farm on the islands’ mainland.
The march was organised by Sustainable Shetland, a grassroots group with more than 800 members, who say Viking Energy’s proposed 457 megawatt wind farm is far too big and will damage the isles’ vulnerable blanket bog.
Protesters gathered at Lerwick’s Market Cross, before marching through Commercial Street and Harbour Street to the town hall, which had been booked for speeches followed by teas and home bakes.
Scottish energy minister Jim Mather will make the final decision on the wind farm project, which is being developed jointly by power giant Scottish & Southern Energy and Shetland Charitable Trust.
Anti-Viking campaigners say a significant majority of islanders are against the project, though the developer believes otherwise.
The government’s Energy Consents Unit, which is to make recommendation to the energy minister, has received around 2,700 representations opposing the project and 1,100 in favour.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said that he believed there should be a public inquiry into the matter, which was the most divisive the islands had seen in the past decade.
Protesters said Saturday’s march was perhaps their last opportunity to voice their objections to government ministers, after just nine councillors carried a vote in favour of the development last month.
Sustainable Shetland vice chairman Kevin Learmonth said he was “humbled” that so many islanders had come out to demonstrate their feelings, but Viking Energy chairman, councillor Bill Manson, said he was not impressed by the numbers.
Mr Learmonth said: “I am humbled with the turnout here today. Hundreds of folk have come to the streets of Lerwick to say no to Viking Energy.
“It demands that our councillors listen to what folk are telling them, that we don’t want Viking Energy. This project is too big and too damaging and too divisive for Shetland.
“We fight for democracy when our elected representatives do not respect the wishes of the community.
“We fight for democracy when our councillors deliberate and pass judgement on their own wind farm development.
“We cry foul when they are councillors one minute, trustees the next, and developers an instant later.
“This wind farm is not only threatening our community funds, our environment, it is also undermining our local democracy.”
The march was attended by islanders from all backgrounds, including two former SIC councillors, Tom Stove and Peter Malcolmson, as well as former island tourism boss Maurice Mullay.
Marchers said the development was far too big for a relatively small island community, the proposed wind turbines were too close to settlements and the financial risk to community funds was too great.
Mr Manson conceded that the Viking Energy debate had divided and polarised the community, but also said that big issues were bound to do that.
“The company is in the situation that it has put an application to the Scottish government. All the written material is with them and we are awaiting the outcome,” he said.
“The fact of a march in Shetland is quite impressive, but it is a well trodden path. They claim they have a membership of 700 odd, and that means that only half of them felt the need to turn out.
“Their membership in the first place amounts to just three and a half per cent of the population.”
Tavish Scott said he had to represent both sides of the argument, but added that the council should have held a “consultative ballot” of all Shetland residents on the issue.
“This is information councillors may still need to help them to make the further decisions they may have to make, on our behalf, such as on whether or not to invest in the project,” he said.
“But the immediate issue is the planning application currently with Scottish ministers. I have asked ministers for the application to be considered at a public inquiry. This would allow an independent assessment to be made of the application.
“Given the size of the project, such a public examination of its merits and impacts is justified.”
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