COMMUNITY groups are vying to influence new board members at the Shetland Charitable Trust on future of a controversial windfarm development on the island.
This week a group of 22 new councillors are set to be sworn onto the 24-member board of the trust, which is one of the wealthiest charities in Scotland, despite the fact that OSCR has ordered it to restructure to distance itself from the local authority.
And one of the first items on the agenda will be whether to go ahead with a £6.4m investment in the planned Viking Energy windfarm.
A decision on the investment was blocked in the week before the local election by OSCR because of the imminence of the election and the resulting restructuring of the board. It also raised concerns about conflicts of interest in then board, which included six Viking Energy directors.
However, now anti-Viking campaign group Sustainable Shetland has sent an open letter to all 24 prospective trustees urging the new trustees not to support the investment.
Simultaneously, the pro-Viking Windfarm Supporters Group is inviting businesses throughout Shetland to sign up to a letter calling for the trust to put its back the 103 turbine development.
Sustainable Shetland claims to have 826 members opposing the wind farm, while the Windfarm Supporters’ Group says it has received more than 600 messages of support for Viking Energy.
The 106 turbine windfarm on moorland on the centre of Shetlands main island was backed by the Scottish Government earlier this year and is set to be the third largest in Scotland.
But opponents say it will blight the local landscape.
In its letter to businesses the Windfarm Supporters Group says people have to “face facts”, and that having received planning permission the wind farm will be built with or without the charitable trust.
Pulling the investment now, the letter says, would mean “throwing away any control over the development and see the potential profits lost to the community along with the increasing number of young people who will leave to look for work”.
The makeup of the new board will not be known until later this week, however, one anti-windfarm campaigner told TFN he would be “astonished” if the board’s “vested interests” were given up.
“The suspicion is that it will still be pro-Viking,” he said. “The feeling is that the board will follow the same line as the old one.
“Many just swallow the line that this development is good business for Shetland. We dispute that, believing it will be detrimental in the long run.
“It’s not an investment we will see returns on either, certainly not in the near future. Yet there are many community initiatives that could be better supported with this cash. It’s ridiculous that a charity should become an investment arm.”
The source said the trust should wait until it had completed the reorganisation OSCR has ordered before addressing “systemic conflicts of interest”.
OSCR also this week reissued guidance for newly elected councillors who also sit on the board of charities reminding them they have a duty to disclose any conflicts of interest and that they should represent the interests of the charity only when sitting as a trustee and not the local authority.
When contacted by TFN, Mary Anderson, principal officer of the trust, refused to divulge the board agenda ahead of its meeting later this week.
OSCR has still to approve proposed plans for a new board, made up of seven councillors and eight coopted members.