The developer of a wind turbine project in Stromness has dismissed claims this week that Orkney could lose its World Heritage Site, if the development goes ahead.
The joint development between Stromness-based Scotrenewables Ltd and landowner, Malcolm Macrae, proposes three 900kw turbines be erected at Merranblo, a site on the ridge of hills between Stromness and Sandwick.
Islands councillors approved the planning application in April, but their decision is now the subject of a Scottish Government public inquiry, earmarked for January, 2008.
Among the objectors to the original planning application was Historic Scotland, who was concerned the turbines would have an “unacceptable” and “adverse” visual impact on the nearby Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
This “visual impact” prompted a number of protests in recent months, but in a letter to The Orcadian this week, lobbying group, Orkney Skyline Concern, raises one particularly serious question.
Could the development see the area”s World Heritage Site designation be removed?
In their letter, submitted on behalf of the group, Colin Kirkpatrick and Judith Glue wrote: “Some people don”t seem to realise that given current form, the people of Orkney and all businesses that benefit from our vital tourist industry in particular, have more to lose than gain. For example, do we want to risk having the World Heritage Site designation stripped from the Heart of Neolithic Orkney? Surely not?
“If the proposed wind turbine development at Merranblo in Stromness goes ahead, there is a very real danger this could happen. A quick look at whc.unesco.org/en/danger/ shows that UNESCO treats their World Heritage site designation very seriously indeed.”
Among the at risk sites listed on this site, they highlight a proposal to erect a bridge over the River Elbe in Germany. This saw an unhappy UNESCO World Heritage Committee declare the Dresden Elbe Valley World Heritage Site as being “in danger” and threaten to remove World Heritage Status.
The letter concludes: “Can Orkney – regularly held up as one of the jewels of Northern European archaeology – really afford to risk something similar happening?”
The Heart of Neolithic Orkney was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in December 1999. At the time, the long-awaited proclamation made the area one of 700 sites across the world, and one of only three Scottish sites to gain this global recognition.
Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Archaeological Trust, Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage were signatories to the designation. In 2001, Orkney Islands Council, Historic Scotland, Orkney Archaeological Trust, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Scottish Natural Heritage were signatories to the “intention to manage and protect the World Heritage Site in the future”.
Commenting on the fears, developer Malcolm Macrae, who is also the vice-chairman of the Orkney Tourism Group, said he felt the group were overreacting.
“Orkney has a tremendous wind resource. We are trying to do it as a local developer keeping the revenue within Orkney to help the Orkney economy. You have to look at the balance of economic benefit, community benefit and the visual impact.”
As someone heavily involved with tourism, he stressed that he would never want Orkney to lose its World Heritage status.
“I do not feel my development would lose the World Heritage status. We are over six kilometres away from the World Heritage site. We are on what Historic Scotland describes as the ‘outer edge of the outer buffer zone’.
“We are right on the extremity. As far as Historic Scotland is concerned they do not want to see anything on the skyline.”
Mr Macrae continued: “I do not see it as a conflict of interest – I would not do it if I did. I am trying to do something which will have a community benefit.”
The developer said he had reduced the size of the turbines, moved their position slightly and clustered them more tightly together in a bid to reduce their impact.
“We looked at alternative sites and this was the site we felt had the least impact. There is a public inquiry due to get under way in January, next year, so we will have to wait and see what Historic Scotland have to say to see how we can counter that.”
The electricity produced will feed into the local grid, to be used in the county, he added.
“I own a World Heritage site in Skara Brae. The last thing I want to do is see the status being stripped from us. We are as far away from the heritage site as we can get without affecting the coastal heath.
“I feel Orkney can cope on the landscape with what I call small pockets of wind turbines.
From The Orcadian, dated: October 11, 2007
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