On 5th September 2021, the Times printed an article under the heading “Thousands more wind turbines planned for Scots countryside”i. For those of us who feel that the Scottish countryside is already overburdened with ugly industrial scale wind farms (or, as the article puts it, is already “one giant wind farm”), this comes as quite a blow.

On the assumption that the UK, including Scotland, is a civilised place where politicians and public officials don’t tell lies, and where words mean what they appear to mean, then the article does offer up hope for those benighted inhabitants of Scotland’s countryside, for whom more wind turbines is their worst nightmare. For example, the “ambition for between 8 and 12 gigawatts of installed onshore wind by 2030” announced by a Scottish Government spokesperson is said to be “[s]ubject to public consultation”. Furthermore:

Government officials insist that Scotland has some of the most stringent environmental impact regulations anywhere in the world.

The reality

Well, if one listened to the politicians and Government spokespersons, one might assume that local inhabitants have nothing to worry about – surely they will be kept fully informed of developments, their concerns will be heeded, and if there is enough local opposition the projects won’t be allowed to proceed?

How does that operate in reality? Some Shetland residents might reply “Not well at all. Be afraid – be very afraid.”

A report in the Shetland Newsii on 7th September 2021 suggests that complacency in the face of soothing official noises might well be misplaced, at least where wind farms are concerned.

RESIDENTS living in the settlement of Newing, in South Nesting, are up in arms after realising that there is little they can do to prevent a massive borrow pit being opened up less than 500 metres from their homes to extract aggregate for the 103 turbine Viking Energy wind farm.

“Borrow pits”, by the way, is a euphemistic phrase which appears to have been dreamed up in a marketing suite. It means quarries.

The formally titled NBP06 at the eastern fringes of the wind farm site is the only borrow pit located anywhere near a settlement, and sits just above the six houses that make up the hamlet of Newing.

Speaking on behalf of the local resident group, representing four of the five inhabited houses at Newing, Suzanne Malcolmson said she hoped that “in an ideal situation the powers that be would realise that a quarry of this magnitude is too close to residential properties, and look elsewhere for the aggregate they need”.

Surely, with all this consultation taking place, and some of the most stringent environmental impact regulations anywhere in the world, the local people will be fully protected from this sort of thing and SSE will realise that quarry operations so close to people’s homes is inappropriate and won’t now take place? Er, not quite:

[D]eveloper SSE Renewables said it had every right to extract rock from the borrow pit granted by Scottish ministers as part of the varied section 36 consent on 24 May 2019.

The indicative layout, drainage plan and management plan for up to 10 borrow pits, including NBP06, was approved by the council’s planning department on 30 July last year.

Come now, locals. You must have failed to respond to the consultation that took place before part of the varied planning consent was granted? You can’t blame other people if you aren’t paying attention at the critical moment, you know. What do you mean, nobody consulted you?

Malcolmson said at no time during the planning process had there been any correspondence from either the developer or the planning authority. She said the Newing residents should have been classed ‘neighbours’ and, hence, been notified.

Justin Watson, who lives closest to the planned borrow pit, said he cannot understand how a quarry that is less than 500 metres away from residential properties got planning consent when the Kergord borrow pits are at least 1,200 metres away from the nearest houses.

The health and wellbeing of the residents here should have been put into consideration,” he said.

Well, yes, that seems reasonable. Put like that, surely SSE Renewables will reconsider?

Er, not really.

Spokesman for Viking Energy wind farm Aaron Priest meanwhile said: “Plans for a borrow pit adjacent to Skellister Loch are a longstanding part of the consent for the wind farm and are fully detailed in the related consent conditions.

In response to an approach in June 2021, further information was provided to local residents on the intentions to access, develop and operate the proposed borrow pit (named NBP06).

All blasting taking place during the wind farm’s construction period is fully monitored and pre-notified to Shetland Islands Council. All blasting across the wind farm site sits well within defined statutory limits and is subject to comprehensive ongoing monitoring.”

So, shut up, you annoying little people. How dare you get in the way of saving the planet? Oh yes, and just for being so annoying, take that!

Meanwhile, Nesting and Lunnasting Community Council has objected to an application by SSE Renewables to extend working hours on site to 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, and 7am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday.

Consultation? Some of the most stringent environmental impact regulations anywhere in the world? Don’t make me laugh.

i https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/thousands-more-wind-turbines-planned-for-scots-countryside-sd5drlqcn

ii https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2021/09/07/residents-unhappy-with-viking-borrow-pit-plans-close-to-their-houses/

15 Comments

  1. Re: Scotland as one giant wind farm, here is the view from the other end of the country. It might come as a shock to some of our Scots readers.

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  2. Wow. Imagine people getting tired of losing their environment to the financial demands of extremists and their super rich manipulators.
    Covid and climate are connected after all:
    Both are examples of government “leaders” becoming flagrantly extremist in pursuit of extremely high cost, low benefit policies that enrich the uber rich.

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  3. I would be just as concerned with the post-construction phase of the borrow pits. Commonly, if drainage measures are not installed or maintained, the pits flood and become a danger to children.
    Somebody must have owned the rights to the land and sold them off to the developers, or were those rights owned by the local council or by some larger administrative body? Bottom line: someone must be responsible for doing the dirt on Newing residents. If I were them I would investigate access rights. Rights to the borrow pit may have been granted but what about rights involving the access routes. I would imagine it would be extremely difficult to comply with noise controls at distances around 0.5 km.

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  4. I think the borrow pit above Newing is on land leased from Symbister Estate Ltd.

    URL:www.shetnews.co.uk/2020/09/11/change-of-viking-energy-ownership-had-no-impact-land-leases/

    URL:www.shetnews.co.uk/2020/11/10/letters-who-owns-shetland/

    URL:find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/SC266469/officers

    That probably doesn’t help but googlers gonna google.

    And having googled, I might as well add that one of its American directors died in January. His obituary:

    URL:www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/latimes/name/john-erlinger-obituary?pid=198074205

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  5. The Scottish Planning System is totally skewed in favour of the developer, there is no consultation and never has been. What we have is a planning application and those behind it coming to tell you what they intend to do. Communities affected have no right of appeal or any meaningful input.

    Local communities impacted by developments forced on them mostly by outsiders, for shareholder profit and boardroom handouts has no provision for the people most affected, to play any role at any stage of it and a large number of communities and individuals have been calling for planning reform for many years.

    The destructive vandalism that tjd Viking Energy Wind Scam represents and the despicable greed driven SIC who never engaged with its electorate to properly establish any local feelings, is to me a gross human rights abuse.

    The utterly corrupt Scottish Government is guilty of perpetuating these crimes all over Scotland in the name of corporate greed and two fingers up to decent democracy and equal access to development and it’s impacts.

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  6. Thank you for the comments.

    Jit, as for southern Scotland, I can certainly vouch for it being one large wind farm now. I returned on Saturday from a trip to Galloway, when I finished climbing the Scottish 2,000′ hills south of the M8. During the course of this campaign, I have wandered far and wide over southern Scotland – and seen an awful lot of wind turbines.

    Vic Thomas. I believe there is now an ongoing campaign to amend the Scottish planning system to make it more like the English one (but there’s not much chance of that with an SNP government linked with Greens who want more and more wind turbines); and also to provide for a right for objectors to be represented at the expense of the state, so as to level the playing-field. I don’t hold out any hope, unfortunately.

    As for “consultation”, I think that’s a sham generally. Two examples from Cumbria, one on a small scale, and one on a large scale:

    1. Some years back the Council found themselves in receipt of a grant of c. £1M for improvements to Cockermouth town centre. They came up with a scheme which involved, inter alia, the installation of hideous plastic seats in the historic Market Place (the sort of thing that would (certainly should) never get planning permission is requested by a private developer. They held a consultation meeting, where public opinion was as close to unanimously hostile as it possible to imagine. The scheme went ahead without any amendments of which I am aware.

    2. Some years ago the Government tried to foist a nuclear dump on West Cumbria (they euphemistically refer to it as a GDF – short for Geological Disposal Facility). I’m not interested in a debate as to whether or not Cumbria is the right place for this – well, I am, but just not for the purposes of this illustration. We were told that if any of the three participating councils (Allerdale, Cumbria and Copeland) weren’t in favour, it wouldn’t go ahead. Cumbria County Council came out against, and the scheme didn’t proceed – well, not at the time. Here we are a few years later. Nothing has changed but the scheme is back, and they’re running another sham consultation. I received a leaflet through my letterbox last week, which assured me that “a GDF can only be built with the consent of a willing community. There will not be a GDF in your area unless the community decides it want one.” Somewhat mischievously I sent an email to the address supplied, which I concluded with the words:

    “As we witnessed regarding the Brexit debate, the will of the people and the opinion of those who purport to represent them do not always coincide. The only way in which the will of the community regarding the GDF can be established properly and meaningfully is by holding a local referendum on the subject. I look forward to your debate regarding the precise wording of the question to be put to the people (given the importance of ensuring the question’s neutrality and non-leading nature) and of the date when the referendum will be held.”

    Needless to say, I haven’t received a reply, and I don’t expect to. Nor do I expect there to be a local referendum (they won’t risk that again after Brexit). Strange sort of consultation, though.

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  7. Great letter from Vic Thomas in Shetland News, directly on point:

    “Tick box exercise”

    https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2021/09/09/tick-box-exercise/

    “This week, SSE the environmental vandals and habitat destroyers of Shetland’s hills and valleys, presents itself in smiling consultation mode to the Shetland public; a ‘consultation’ over ever more plans to dig up, concrete over and further industrialise the islands….

    …The Scottish planning system, where all this rotten mess stems from, is utterly rigged in favour of the developer with absolutely no say for the public….

    …This kind of ‘consultation’ is a legal tick box requirement to all agencies, bodies, government departments, developers, should they seek too make changes that will impact on parts of the community they serve or operate in.

    It is done to give the public a totally false feeling that their opinions are being listened to, and to allow the originators of said consultations to tick the box in their list of compliance tasks, and then carry on as planned.

    There is no obligation to take any notice of the publics views, concerns or objections, though some say they do take notice of the publics comments but there is scant evidence to show much meaningful change in the original plans or proposals.

    So in reality, the public have no rights or meaningful input into any of it….”.

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  8. I had no idea there were such differences between the English and Scottish systems. I have been employed in the distant past to give evidence (actually opinion) in one decision in Berkshire but was never called. The scheme was thrown out much earlier on.
    How come in Scotland locals were never awarded effective rights concerning their neighbourhoods, or have they, but it’s all window dressing?

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  9. Alan, I’m far from an expert on this topic, but if I understand it correctly, in England all such applications are automatically dealt with by the local planning authority unless called in by the Minister. In Scotland, by contrast, I believe large projects of this nature are automatically dealt with by the Government, though they would have to go to Inquiry if the local authority raised objections. In the case of Viking Energy and its massive wind farm, Shetland Islands Council seems to be working hand-in-glove with the developer, and certainly raised no issues, so there was no inquiry, and the Scottish government simply dealt with it under the powers it has by virtue of the different planning regime in Scotland.

    Given that there seems to be a fairly cosy relationship between renewables developers and officialdom in Scotland, and given the even more fervid enthusiasm for these projects following on from the deal struck recently between the SNP and the Scottish Greens at Holyrood, locals who aren’t happy simply don’t stand a chance.

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  10. Still, maybe kicking up a fuss (even if the official “consultation” process is a sham) might yet result in small victories – here’s hoping:

    “Senior councillor calls on Viking Energy to abandon Newing quarry plans”

    https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2021/09/09/senior-councillor-calls-on-viking-energy-to-abandon-newing-quarry-plans/

    “A LOCAL councillor and former director of Viking Energy is calling on the wind farm developer to think again and abandon plans to develop a large borrow pit near houses at Newing, at South Nesting.

    Alastair Cooper said he feels strongly about the situation local residents find themselves in and added that he believed the “community had been misled to some extent”.

    Residents living in the settlement of Newing only recently became aware that developer SSE Renewables was pressing ahead with the quarry less than 500 metres from their homes….

    Cooper said that when he was involved in the project as a director on behalf of the local council ten years ago, the possibility a borrow pit to extract aggregate for the wind farm was considered but was discarded “as nonsense” because it was far too near to the houses.

    The Shetland North councillor, who is the chairman of the council’s development committee, said the general belief at the time was the quarry would not happen, and admitted that no-one was aware that when planning came through in 2019 the Newing borrow pit was still in the plans.

    He said SSE needed to “back off” and start seriously looking at moving the borrow pit to a different location within the vast Viking site….”.

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  11. To be fair, a borrow pit is usually filled in afterwards. They extract the rock needed for foundations, roading and the like, then use the hole to dump all the soft ground and peat etc that they had to scrape off to put the rock and concrete there. So you are left with a piece of ground that is only good for wetlands or extensive agriculture.

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  12. Chris Morris, thank you for that. I am glad that you used the word “usually”. I confess I don’t know whether it’s part of the planning permission that this is supposed to happen after the event. When it comes to Viking Energy, however, I suggest the locals might have to watch them carefully. If I understand it correctly, it was part of the sequence of permissions that a bond was required, with regard to reinstatement works, etc. Nobody seems to have seen the required bond yet.

    In the meantime, what we DO know about “borrow pits” is they they start off as quarries, with all the associated quarry activities – blasting, large lorries, etc – and that SSE want this activity to go on for 12 hours a day Monday-Friday and that they want it to start at 7am seven days a week.

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  13. Mark,

    Yes, I know from direct experience that these consultations are a complete sham. When a company wanted to build a group of turbines that would have literally overshadowed my town, a presentation/meeting with locals was arranged as part of the legally required consultation process. However, only 48hrs notice was given; the notice was given only in an ad in a free newspaper distributed in the town down the road; and the meeting took part in a weekday morning when most locals were at work. Email feedback was then solicited, but only from those who had attended the presentation.

    As a result, the opinions of only 24 people were recorded to represent the views of a town of 19,000. Of the 24, a dozen were for and a dozen against (I attended the presentation so I know that promises were made of green jobs for the local townsfolk). However, in view of ‘several’ additional, unsolicited emails supposedly all giving support, the company declared that public support was overwhelming. The numbers and sources of these mysterious emails were never published. Approval for the windfarm was granted (notwithstanding the formation of an opposition group led by the local MP and a 2000 signature petition against the farm). The whole thing collapsed at the 11th hour when the Cameron government withdrew its subsidies.

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  14. John, a lucky escape when the money trough ran dry!

    Needless to say, I still haven’t had a reply to my email about the proposed GDF in west Cumbria. I don’t suppose I will receive one. The only views they’re interested in are supportive ones. That doesn’t sound much like consultation to me.

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  15. “Cumbria coalmine firm ‘betting on UK breach of climate targets’
    Expert tells inquiry WCM’s plans are not legally compliant under UK’s and EU’s policy frameworks”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/16/cumbria-coalmine-firm-betting-on-uk-breach-of-climate-targets

    It’s curious, isn’t it? Oppose an environmentally destructive wind farm on your doorstep, and you’re ignored and ridden roughshod over. Oppose a coal mine nowhere near where you live, that has already been granted planning permission, that many locals are enthusiastic about, and you get a full scale Planning Inquiry after the event.

    My email to those organising the “consultation” about the proposed nuclear dump (sorry, Geological Disposal Facility) still hasn’t produced a reply, needless to say.

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