Divide et impera?

Environmental Values 15 (2):143 - 144 (2006)
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Instead of an editorial, in this issue of Environmental Values the publishers have been invited to comment on a local environmental issue that currently looms large in our Scottish island backyard. Divided from mainland Scotland by fifty miles of sea, the Outer Hebrides are a peripheral part of the already peripheral Scottish Highlands - a region of low production, and high demands on thinly spread national services. Fifteen years ago our economic salvation was to be the creation of the largest stone quarry in Europe, to supply aggregate for the construction industry in South-east England and mainland Europe. After two Public Inquiries and much legal wrangling this proposal was eventually laid to rest. Its eventual defeat was at least partly due to the united front against the proposed development that was maintained by a coalition of virtually all the environmental NGOs that function north of the English border.1In environmental terms, aggregates, the landscape damage caused by quarrying, and the connection with road-building and increasing motor traffic are readily characterised as a 'bad thing', but the latest threat to the Scottish and island landscape is a less clear-cut environmental bad. The prospect of large-scale windfarms, and the associated transmission lines that would be required to deliver electric power from them to markets in the South, is one that has already divided environmental groups; with Friends of the Earth generally in favour, Greenpeace equivocal, and landscape- and wildlife-oriented NGOs against. For wind energy has long been promoted as a 'green' alternative to damaging fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power, and its proponents argue that we should not be deflected on merely aesthetic grounds from grasping a technology that could save the world from climate catastrophe. This division of the environmental camp inevitably makes it more likely the developers will prevail. As with the superquarry, scale is part of the problem: the proposed developments are massive - mouth-wateringly so to local councils and landowners attracted by the prospect of multi-million pound revenues, devastatingly so to the majority of local residents and to the many walkers and climbers who visit the Highlands and Islands for their majestic and unspoilt scenery.The following extracts from recent press releases by the John Muir Trust and the local campaigning group Moorlands Without Turbines, and the developers' mock-up of thevisual impact of one of the local proposals above, will convey to readers the scale of proposals for Scottish windfarms, the strength of local feeling and the real dilemmas faced by NGOs in developing a coherent response.... targets set in the [renewable energy] strategy for Highland Council area are greater than those of the Scottish Executive for the whole of Scotland ... The Scottish Executive has a renewable energy target for 2020 which requires another 3,400 MW in Scotland. The Highland Council Renewable Strategy sets a target of over 4,000 MW from new renewable energy.The Highland Council targets do not seem to have been strategically set in relation to factors outside the Highlands but look as if they are based on the maximum possible installation based on the most liberal planning regime.2Scottish Executive Minister Allan Wilson has given the first official statistics on the number of objections for the proposed North Lewis Peatlands Windfarm - the world's largest onshore windfarm.In a response to written questions by Green MSP Shiona Baird, Mr. Wilson states: 'Prior to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar [Western Isles Council] submitting its consultation response the Executive recorded six responses in support and 2,713 objections to the Lewis Windpower proposal from Western Isles residents. Since Western Isles Council submitted their consultation response, the Executive has recorded 11 responses of support and 1,860 objections to the Lewis Windpower proposal, from Western Isles residents'In total a massive 6,131 objections have been received of which 4,573 come from local people. The figures show that for every person who wrote to support the scheme from the islands 269 people wrote and objected.Lewis based Moorland without Turbines chairperson Catriona Campbell, who is campaigning against the joint AMEC and British Energy project said:'At last we have official confirmation of the unprecedented level of protest against this industrialisation of our land. Till now our local MSP and Council have refused to acknowledge the sentiment of the island. The Council voted in favour of it against the wishes of those who will be affected. Every community council and councillor in North Lewis, the area directly affected, has voted resoundingly against it.'...The proposed 234 turbines, each higher than the Forth Rail bridge, and 167km of new road would cover moorland that is protected by European Law for its wildlife interest, including international populations of species such as Golden Eagles, Red-throated Divers and Golden Plovers.3The Lingerabay Superquarry saga was a rich source for academic case-studies; we confidently predict that we shall hear more about the 'green energy' debate in the pages of this journal



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