Tuesday, 1st May 2012
Damage Limitation - Windfarms and Tourism
Note: A copy of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on Sunday 29 April 2012
Damage Limitation - Windfarms and Tourism
By Struan Stevenson MEP
It’s fair to say that eyebrows were raised the length and breadth of Scotland when Donald Trump, pressed by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament to explain the factual basis for his belief that wind turbines would wreck tourism, uttered the now immortal line, “I am the evidence.”
But if we can look beyond the sheer bravado of that statement, it would be foolish to ignore the opinion of a man who knows so much about what makes tourists tick and how to generate dollars from them. Indeed, the very fact that Trump, one of the world's most successful hoteliers, flew in to Scotland especially to give evidence immediately illustrated that the tourist industry and those whose livelihoods rely upon it, have already been impacted.
Trump’s critics have pointed toward a recent Visit Scotland's 'Wind Farm Consumer Research' survey of 1,000 Scots and their opinions on the importance of natural landscapes and windfarms' effects on their holiday choices. That survey led Scotland’s Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing to conclude that "the vast majority of visitors to Scotland do not see wind farms as a problem".
Yet Visit Scotland, in its 2007 Tourism Prospectus, lyrically noted that: "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…against a distinctive backdrop that is the country of Scotland." That distinctive backdrop is in danger of becoming a distant memory.
What Mr Ewing should have said is that the vast majority of visitors to Scotland do not see wind farms as a problem for the time being. Though there are already signs that more and more people are sceptical of wind turbines, the broad mass of public opinion on Scottish Government energy policy will not be transformed overnight. But as it becomes increasingly apparent that nowhere is safe, attitudes will undoubtedly change.
Here is the problem: some 25 windfarms are currently under construction, on top of the ones already in place. As those are completed, 112 further consented projects will be started while 169 more are currently being planned. The cumulative effect on our countryside will be immense, but by the time VisitScotland does its next tourism survey, there will be no visitors here to ask. The damage will have been done.
What will that mean for the economy? Scotland's spectacular scenery is the cornerstone of our tourist industry, which 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 our 2.5 million international visitors flock here each year 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 annually. Scotland without our varied natural heritage is unimaginable and building windfarms, or as Alex Salmond says – “industrialising Scotland” - will inevitably impact massively on tourism.
Take golf as an example. Scotland is world renowned as 'the home of golf' and people travel from all around the globe to play our courses. Scottish Enterprise estimates that golf tourism's contribution to our economy is around £220 million annually, with significant spill-over benefits to local economies. Golf tourism also aids economic growth as private developers invest heavily 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. This has not only helped generate employment and economic growth in Scotland but has enhanced our reputation for having the finest courses in the world.
It is important to note that it is not our high number of courses which attracts tourists from both home and abroad; it is their unique, spectacular setting. Yet wind turbines are beginning to intrude on many of these world-class facilities. We have already seen public outrage at the Kenly windfarm situated 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.
So, with so many projects under construction, consented and planned, and with larger, more obtrusive turbines rising to 350-400ft, we should not be asking a handful of people if, hypothetically, they would avoid an area where a windfarm might be built. We should be asking the nation how they will feel when our most valuable resource is actually covered with turbines. Likewise, we should be asking the 218,000 people employed by the tourist industry how they will cope when their industry collapses under the weight of steel and glass-fibre.
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and President of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development.