A number of SIC councillors have expressed frustration with the way the local planning authority is responding – or not, as the case may be – to community concerns over the Viking Energy construction project.
In a series of e-mails seen by Shetland News, councillors regularly attending meetings of the Tingwall, Whiteness and Weisdale community council (TWWCC) expressed disappointment over how the group’s concerns were handled – with one saying they sometimes feel “very embarrassed” attending these meetings and being told that the views of the community are “never listened to”.
An objection by TWWCC to Viking Energy’s application to change working hours on the site to include limited time on Sundays was only responded to after the decision to grant the change had been made, a situation that was described as “unacceptable” and a “failure at a basic level”.
One of the suggestions by the community council was for noise generating work not to commence until 10am on Sundays.
The leak of internal e-mails between councillors and council officials comes some weeks after political leader Steven Coutts decided to cancel so-called private ‘member gatherings’ after “another leak of information to the media”.
Coutts advised fellow members to reflect on a decision by the Standards Commission to suspend Orkney councillor John Ross Scott for three months after found guilty of publicly sharing information that had been discussed in private.
The dispute over the Viking working hours revolves around developer SSE Renewables’ application to alter operating hours on the massive building site after main contractor RJ McLeod moved to a chartered service to bring in workers to Shetland.
This was granted on 17 March, with the council insisting the local authority was protecting “the interest of the community” by limiting the extension of working hours to four months and implementing a requirement for noise monitoring.
One councillor responded by saying that banning work early on Sunday mornings “would have gone some way to help community relations”, adding that wishes had been “totally ignored”.
TWWCC chairman Andrew Archer only officially received a response to the community council’s objection two weeks after the planning decision had been made.
In an e-mail head of development Neil Grant apologised for delay in responding.
He wrote: “In coming to this decision, the council as planning authority considered the issues of supporting economic activity during the island’s recovery from the pandemic and also in reducing the numbers of workers travelling on and off island.
“The impacts of the additional activity on the local community was considered and mitigating actions put in place, particularly monitoring to limit impact of nuisance from vibration and noise on local residents.”
In a statement to Shetland News council chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “As planning authority, Shetland Islands Council has been asked by Scottish Government’s chief planner and the minister for local government, housing and planning to support Scotland’s economic and social recovery and renewal by continuing to exercise their discretion on enforcement and allow for temporary breaches of planning control that are reasonable and support businesses to operate such as through relaxations that allow for longer hours of operation on construction sites.
“The council has however protected the interests of residents in the vicinity of the works when agreeing to the relaxation by requiring appropriate noise monitoring at agreed receptors, reserving the right to investigate cases of nuisance, and placing a limit on the relaxation for a limited period of four months.”
Viking Energy wind farm spokesperson Aaron Priest, meanwhile, said no HGV movements on or off site are planned on Sundays, and he added that the new shift pattern means that the majority of the work is stood down every second weekend.
“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,” he said.