This week, Scottish Tory MSP John Lamont asked Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, if the Scottish Government had received evidence that suggested wind turbines adversely affect tourism or health. Predictably, Ewing stated that the Scottish Government had not received any credible evidence to confirm the impacts of turbines on health or on tourism.
The Scottish Government and Fergus Ewing are wrong. They have received considerable evidence, from their own people, that turbines affect human health. They just chose to ignore it by saying it is not credible or the arguments are ‘subjective’. The health impacts of turbines have been confirmed in the first ever science-based, peer-reviewed report entitled ‘Effects of Industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health’, which was released earlier this month.
Granted, there is yet to be a definitive, independent study published on the impacts of turbines on tourism. There have been a few lacklustre attempts, such as Glasgow Caledonian University’s 2008 report ‘The economic impacts of wind farms on Scottish’. But after 305 pages of irrelevant filler, this report finished with half a page of insightful conclusions such as “the planning system is in general working well” and “there is a case for the protection of National Scenic Areas and National Parks”.
VisitScotland has also tried to tackle the issue with its ‘Wind Farm Consumer Research’ survey and the Scottish Parliament infamously discussed tourism with Donald Trump during its Renewables Inquiry in early 2012. However, there is yet to be an impartial, definitive report produced to confirm whether or not turbines impact the tourist industry in Scotland.
Those who are sceptical of wind energy may question the need for such a study as it is blindingly obvious that vast steel turbines towering over some of Scotland’s famous landscapes would put-off tourists. But our Government disagrees. Fergus Ewing has even commented that “the vast majority of visitors to Scotland do not see wind farms as a problem”.
So can the Government be trusted?
The answer is ‘no’. The SNP Government is notorious for overlooking communities and individuals affected by their energy plans. Those who rely on our tourist industry are just another addition to the long list of Scots ignored in favour of the unbridled deployment of wind turbines. The spread of wind energy will affect tourism, but because the impacts will not be immediate, the majority of visitors to Scotland may not see wind farms as a problem…yet.
There are 142 operational wind farms in Scotland, the vast majority of which have been built within the last 5-10 years. Therefore, the impacts are only starting to be seen. But what about the 183 wind farms currently in planning? With the recent news that 83% of wind farm applications in Scotland are approved, we can work out that approximately 152 of those 183 projects will eventually scar the Scottish countryside. Add the 30 wind farms currently under construction and the 117 consented projects and you have a total of another 299 potential windfarms for Scotland – a 111% increase on what we already have. Our invaluable countryside will be irreparably damaged.
With Scotland’s spectacular scenery as its cornerstone, the tourist industry will be irreparably damaged. The industry encompasses around 20,000 businesses employing approximately 218,000 people (8-9% of the workforce) and generating upwards of £4.2 billion annually for our economy. It is why many of the 2.5 million international visitors flock here annually and why 15 million tourists took overnight trips to or within Scotland in 2008. Scottish Natural Heritage estimated that nature-based tourism alone provides 39,000 jobs and £1.4 billion every year.
Even Visit Scotland, in their Tourism Prospectus (2007) noted that: “Visitors do not primarily come to Scotland because they like hotel bedrooms! They do not come in order to drive up and down the roads, or use the railways and airports. Visitors to Scotland come for an experience that is rooted in our hills and glens, our castles and towns, our history, our culture, our way of life and our people. Visitors participate in any number of activities, pursue many different interests, see many different places but they do so against a distinctive backdrop that is the country of Scotland.”
Take golf as an example. Scotland is known as ‘the home of golf’. Enthusiasts travel from all around the world to play our courses. Scottish Enterprise estimated that golf tourism’s contributes around £220 million to the economy every year, with significant spill-over benefits to local economies.
The economy also benefits from private investment in commercial golf facilities. A report into Golf tourism by SQW consulting showed that, in recent years, investors have pumped nearly £250 million into various developments at St Andrews, Carrick Golf and Spa at Loch Lomond, Machrihanish Dunes, Castle Stuart, Turnberry and Rowallan Castle. Whilst this has helped generated employment and economic growth, it has also enhanced Scotland’sreputation for having the finest courses in the world.
The importance of golf to Scotland’s economy simply cannot be overstated. We have nine Open Championship venues and 550 golf courses spread across the country. KPMG’s Golf Benchmark Survey showed that Scotland has approximately one course for every 9,300 people. We also have one of the highest golf participation rates in the world with 5% of the population registered in 2007. But the volume of courses or players does not attract tourists: the unique, spectacular settings and the challenge of playing the country’s links courses does.
Golfers are already beginning to witness the intrusion of turbines and have spoken out against Kenly windfarm near the Old Course at St Andrews. Members of the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club were stunned when a 218ft turbine recently appeared near the 14th tee and of course, the effects of turbines on Donald Trump’s plans for a £1 billion development at Menie have been well publicised.
With so many projects under construction, consented and planned, it is time that someone compiled a definitive, impartial report with fact-based, conclusive evidence stating whether or not wind turbines negatively, or even positively, impact tourism in Scotland. This is the only way to ensure that the SNP Government protects our most valuable resource and the tourist industry that relies on it, before they both succumb under the weight of steel and glass-fibre.
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