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Council economist notes wind farm answers

Western Isles Council’s senior economist was ticked off for using written prepared answers when giving evidence at the Eishken windfarm public inquiry on Monday.

Calum Iain Maciver was a core witness for the local authority but he had a numbered list of answers with him and read them off as he was “questioned” by the council’s lawyer. After being pulled by Louise Cockburn, solicitor for SNH, he volunteered to put his notes aside.

Ms Cockburn said: “It appears Mr Maciver is is reading from a sheet in front of him.”

Mr Maciver maintained it was simply an aide-mémoire but jettisoned the papers as he continued to be grilled for nearly three hours by the different parties in the inquiry.

He repeatedly stressed that the Eishken wind farm would create jobs, boost renewable energy targets for the UK as well as optimising the reliability of supply from the country’s resource of wind power

He highlighted it is essential to support such a scheme to avoid issuing “negatives signals” which could scupper further investment in the sector.

Mr Maciver was adamant that the socio-economic benefits far outweighed any detrimental (environmental ) impacts.

On the national benefits of the windfarm he pointed out that the “Scottish Government aims to have a prosperous rural economy The Scottish Government sees population is key to a more dynamic economy and has set targets to grow the population.”

Because of the high level of investment of pubic funds “the Government must see Arnish as a piece of national infrastructure.”

He said that the Arnish yard required the order for the Eishken turbines to kick-start its fortune and “provide continuity of supply of work to develop and to be able to compete into the wider market.” This was a significant benefit of national importance he said.

There were numerous but crucial exchanges regarding whethever the benefits were restricted to the local economy or if they had an national importance. The difference is vital as the inquiry has a very narrow focus to consider the national aspect and must effectively ignore the any advantage constrained to within the islands.

Mr Maciver pointed out that Eishken was “by far the largest investment into the Western Isles as far as I’m aware.

“If this is not – then it is hard to see what project could be describe as of national importance happening in the Western Isles.

“There is nothing small about this project. About what it can deliver for communities.”

He stressed that it was of such “a level and scale to match very neatly with Government policy on population and economic development.

“Taking the interconnector into account it is a potentially half a billion pound project. This is not small in highland and islands terms. It is not small in national terms.”

He said: “Our geography places us on the very periphary of Europe” creating a “supra-rurality” problem with far remoter distances from markets compared to other rural areas reason compounded by even higher transport costs.

“What this project can do is significantly more than what it may do in other rural economies closer to centres of population.”

He took a swipe at local anti-windfarm group protest group MWTfor suggesting the original Camcal, the operators of the Arnish wind tower yard, had a flawed business plan: “There wasn’t anything wrong with their business model” but it suffered from a lack of projects coming through the planning process

With a fall of the Lochs population by 20% in 25 years and a quarter less people in Harris over the same period he stressed the advantages of the scheme.

He said it would “empower the community” as the community fund of over £ 1 million was different than the restrictive rules from public funding and would permit the community “to set its own priorities rather than be forced to follow what someone else want them to do.”

Referring to the chairperson of local anti-windfarm group protest group he added: “Unlike Ms Campbell, I have faith in the people of Lochs.”

Hebrides News

20 May 2008