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Diving a potential £2M boost to Berwickshire tourism

There’s been mixed news for tourism in Berwickshire this week – while one plan looks set to boost the economy another development is threatening to do the exact opposite.

On the one hand, a new study suggests things are on the up for the region’s expanding diving industry, but on the other, landowners and tourist businesses in Coldingham are worried about just how big an impact a potential windfarm development could have on their day-to-day lives.

A report published this week has shown that establishing the Berwickshire coast as one of the UK’s leading dive locations could help to attract an additional 15,000 visitors to the region and give a £2 million a year boost to the Scottish economy.
The independent report, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise Borders, highlights that marketing St Abbs and Eyemouth as a single dive location and encouraging more divers to visit off-peak and midweek, would deliver substantial economic benefits for the towns as well as the region as a whole.

Julian Pace, Executive Director at Scottish Enterprise Borders, said: “Since the St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve was created in 1984, the area has become very popular with UK divers and the region currently attracts around 25,000 divers a year, split equally between the two locations.

“Most dive businesses, however, operate independently from each other with little cohesion and the report highlights that working together to promote what the area has to offer could increase the number of visitors from both the UK and overseas.

“The report also highlights that there are some potential barriers to growth such as existing congestion and a lack of suitable facilities. We must look at how we can grow the sector sustainably and we will be working with residents and businesses in both communities to look at how we can address these and ensure that we can maximise the potential for the area.”

The study has set out a whole host of proposals which would help to heighten the appeal of diving on the Berwickshire coast, these include: increasing the supply of accommodation for large dive groups; improving changing facilities and restrooms in both St Abbs and Eyemouth; looking at a possible park and ride scheme to limit the number of cars in St Abbs and identifying the potential of linking up with dive businesses in East Lothian and Northumberland to host a major watersports festival.

A new working group comprising of dive-related businesses in the region is being established to look at the proposals in more detail. One of the key priorities for the group will be engaging with other tourism businesses in the area such as accommodation providers and visitor attractions.

Things aren’t looking as promising for the residents of Coldingham Moor. As reported in last week’s Berwickshire News, they are becoming increasingly worried about what repercussions the proposed windfarm for Drone Hill could have for them.

The development is the brainchild of PM Renewables and if their application is given the green light by Scottish Borders Council’s Planning Department later this summer, 22 76 metre high turbines could soon be standing on either side of the A1107 across the cliff tops.

Both Coldingham Community Council and Coldingham STAG have voiced their concerns over negative side effects for the local tourism industry and a recent survey by Visit Scotland has confirmed their suspicions. Results pointed to the fact that 26 per cent of people questioned wouldn’t visit a place with a windfarm in its vicinity.

If the PM Renewables application is given the go-ahead, the Coldingham landscape could soon be dominated by windfarms and one person who will be affected is Sarah Russell, of Dowlaw Farm, one of a number of landowners involved in Clifftop Discovery Tours. The tours offer visitors a trip in a landrover from St Abb’s Head to Siccar Point to take in the scenery and local wildlife.

Sarah said if the windfarm development went ahead it would take away some of the main selling points of the tour.

“People who come on the tour are going to have to go past all the turbines on their journey which will detract from the beauty of the area. There is so much wildlife to see including a host of migratory birds, red squirrels and many wild flowers.

“Visitors are paying for this experience but they’re not going to want to pay if the skyline is dominated by wind turbines. I’m not against renewable energy in the slightest but Coldingham Moor is certainly not a rural area and for the many landowners here, tourism is the way forward.”

Sarah and her husband Ian have also being given a Home Improvement Grant from Scottish Borders Council to renovate some derelict farm cottages on their land and turn them into holiday lets. She said there is a great demand for this type of accomodation in the area although she admitted having a windfarm on their doorstep could have serious repercussions.

“There is an array of reasons why the proposed windfarm causes serious concerns for us. People are going to be able to see the turbines from miles away and they’re definitely going to be a bit of an eyesore.

“Although the holiday let business is still a few years away I’ve had a number of e-mails from people saying they’d be interested. People want to come and appreciate the natural surroundings the area has to offer and having a big artificial development like a windfarm is going to spoil this.

” With other developments at Crystal Rig and Blackhill it seems this small corner of the Scottish Borders is being targeted and we’re soon going to have windfarms everywhere.”

By Simon Duke

The Berwickshire News

4 July 2007