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Divisions open on wind farms as VisitScotland takes a stand

The Sunday Post recently concluded a very useful exercise someone needed to do and totted up the sums on wind farms. The results showed that:

• 131 onshore wind farms are already installed in Scotland
• 304 more are under construction, are already consented or are in the planning process

If those in the planning application stage are developed – and the Scottish Government has instructed planners to relax their scrutiny regime and progress [ie consent] applications more quickly – more than 5,000 turbines would stand across the country.

Days ago, the First Minister, fast becoming a serial fantasist, chose to declare that wind farms ‘enhance our appeal as a country’ – as if we were the first and only country to have any, rather than being the first country majoring on spectacular landscape to go bald-headed for throwing turbines up wherever. Even the Great Glen and Loch Ness are facing this challenge.

VisitScotland, which has long done a painful splits on the fence, finally came off that position.

Having insisted that it did not oppose wind farm development in principle, VisitScotland even towed the line earlier this year to the extent of publishing the results of a survey showing that four out of five tourists visiting Scotland do not see wind farms as a problem.

Given that the majority of tourists go to Edinburgh, Loch Ness and Royal Deeside, this result was hardly surprising. They won’t have seen enough to replace hypothesis with reality.

However, a proposed development of 10-turbine at Minnygap near Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway has left the national tourism agency having to declare its opposition on the grounds that the wind farm ‘could have a detrimental effect’ on the area’s visitor offer.

This is an unusual move and one whose significance has been quickly identified by Murdo Fraser MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Energy and Tourism committee.

Mr Fraser says: ‘If wind farms will damage tourism in one area of Scotland, this is surely the case the country over.

‘This is a message communities reliant on the tourist trade have been trying to get through to the Scottish Government for years.’

Scotland’s tourism is worth £11 billion-a-year – not a sector to be put at risk as a major earner and one with real growth potential.

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s planning committee report says that the Minnygap development for which planning is sought: ‘appears to be visible from the Southern Upland Way which is an important part of the tourism offering in the area.

‘There have been a number of applications for wind farm developments along the route of the walk. Should all of these be granted there could be a cumulative detrimental effect on walkers.’

This reinforces the argument that Scotland’s greatest USP is its portfolio of wilderness areas on land and at sea; and that the invasion of these empty places by aggressively dominant engineering projects like wind farms destroys the adventure of the sense of exploration of the unknown.

The planning report on the Minnygap application will go to Dunfries and Galloway councillors this coming Thursday, 25th October.

The Sunday Post quotes representatives of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland as welcoming the VisitScotland objection as ‘ long overdue’ and calling for a moratorium on wind farm developments.

It quotes VisitScotland as saying that it supports the drive for renewables but: ‘When consulted as part of the formal planning process, VisitScotland recommends that tourism concerns are taken into account when granting planning permission and encourages sensitive siting of developments at all times.’

This belated protective intervention from VisitScotland is evidence of increasing concern of the scale of the rush for wind driven by the Scottish Government – at a point when countries installing wind farms earlier, as with Germany – are now taking them out as inefficient.

We have the chance to learn from the experience of others who are further down the road than we are. It is wilfully damaging not to do so.

A smart Scottish Government would already have been offering investment to Air Fuel Synthesis at Stockton on Tees and offering them serious incentives to develop their commercial implementation in Scotland.

They only need around £6 million for the demonstration plant to produce one ton of petrol a day by 2014 – a year of note to the government.