The community council representing Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale says it is “extremely disappointed” that the developer behind the Viking Energy wind farm has received the go-ahead to carry out construction work on Sundays for the next four months.
Chairman Andrew Archer said residents of Kergord have “already have a miserable time of it” – and that allowing the work, which is defined as having the potential to create a “nuisance”, for seven days a week is “completely unreasonable”.
But the team behind the 103-turbine wind farm say a change in shift patterns will mean there will be one day of work less per fortnight than what is in place at the moment.
Viking Energy said the key driver behind the request was the pandemic and restrictions on transport leading to “wholesale changes” in logistics for workers travelling to Shetland.
Developer SSE successfully applied to Shetland Islands Council’s planning service to amend the agreed hours of work with potential to create a “nuisance” on the main wind farm development to include 7am to 4pm on Sundays.
This type of work on the new Sandwater road and construction compound will also now be able to take place between 8am and 2pm on Sundays. No HGV movements on or off site, however, are planned for Sundays.
Viking Energy said as a result of flights to and from Shetland being restricted, its principle contractor RJ McLeod moved to a chartered service to provide “further Covid security to the workforce and the local community”.
As a result it proposed an 11 on, three off rotation, with workers travelling to Shetland fortnightly on a Monday and departing the isles the Thursday prior.
The request to amend working hours was down to the availability of key personnel during the new shift pattern, which will see staff working at capacity every other weekend with skeleton personnel on the alternate weekend.
The application followed fresh government guidance on the recovery from Covid-19 which suggested that a relaxed approach to planning controls, such as working hours on site, is one way to maintain economic activity and keep people in jobs.
The planning service consulted the local environmental health officer, who noted that the initial approved working hours – which did not include Sundays – were “put in place to give the residents respite from the construction noise at the weekends”.
“Respite they say has become important through the pandemic as people are more likely to be at home through the week and more likely to be disturbed by noise.”
Development management team leader John Holden said representations had been made against the application, including from the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale Community Council, but the service agreed that the working hours could be amended for a period of four months.
Speaking after the decision, Archer told Shetland News that residents in Kergord have reported rock breakers sometimes starting work just after 7am.
“People already have to put up with this for 69 hours a week. Isn’t that enough?” he asked.
Archer also questioned the motives behind the shift change, saying it was the community council’s belief that it may be more for operational reasons rather than “anything to do with Covid”.
“SSE came to our community council meeting last month to talk to us about the proposed concrete batching plant but we took the opportunity to quiz them on the working hours change,” he said.
“We came away with the distinct impression that the change had a lot more to do with it being operationally more efficient than anything to do with Covid.
“To rub salt into it, they tried to persuade us that they were doing people a favour as, if they worked seven days a week, it would all be over more quickly.
“We lobbied planning, environmental health, [Shetland Islands Council development director] Neil Grant and all the councillors to try to stop it, but local views seem to count for nothing.”
Spokesperson for Viking Wind Farm Aaron Priest said: “Construction is progressing well and we’re now close to completion of the first phase on the new Sandwater Road and the main compound south east of Sandwater and branching out into remoter parts of the wind farm site.
“Over 60 local people are working directly on construction and over 30 local businesses are directly engaged in the supply chain, with around £5.4 million directly spent to date.
“The temporary approval of limited Sunday working by Shetland Islands Council allows work to take place on the remoter parts of the windfarm site between the hours of 07.00 – 16.00 and, separately, 08.00 – 14.00 so the work required to finish off the new Sandwater Road and main compound sites can be completed.
“A recent change to the shift rotation, introduced by principal contractor RJ McLeod, means that the majority of the work is stood down for an extended period, every second weekend between Thursday evening and Monday morning.
“This means the main works now take place on eleven days each fortnight, rather than the previous arrangement of twelve working days in each fortnightly rotation.”
Shetland Islands Council’s development director Neil Grant said the local authority took a “balanced decision”.
“This decision took account of the views in the communication from the community council and statutory consultees in assessing the potential for nuisance, and in limiting the period of the extension to four months and commitment to investigate any reported cases of nuisance,” he said.