10 February 2004

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Enterprise and Culture Committee

Evidence Received for
Renewable Energy in Scotland inquiry

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Renewable Energy Inquiry - Gordonbush Wind Farm

1. My name is Bruce Richardson. I retired from the Royal Navy in the rank of Rear Admiral in 1992. I am now the Chief Harbour Master of the Port of London Authority (PLA), in which capacity I have had experience of wind farm proposals for the Thames estuary.

2. My reason for submitting evidence to this inquiry, however, stems from the fact that I am also a keen bird-watcher and fisher, and regularly visit Helmsdale. I spend a significant proportion of my annual leave in this area, and have done so for many years. I am also a keen supporter of the Helmsdale community and have been publicly active in trying to ensure the repair of Helmsdale harbour, and its future viability.

3. My specific worries in respect of the proposal to build a wind farm at Gordonbush are as follows. Firstly, I am particularly concerned that the development will do irreparable damage to the unique environment of that area. I am also concerned that such a development could undermine the economic viability of some local communities.


4. This north-east section of coast is one of significant ornithological importance. Not only is it on the fly line for a many thousands of migratory waders and sea birds, it is one of the remaining corners of this country in which species of increasing rarity, such as Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers, and Golden Plovers have taken refuge. I am therefore particularly alarmed by reports from Denmark to the effect that the number of birds being killed by wind turbines in that country is now considered very much greater than hitherto anticipated, or recognised. I therefore submit that this risk to migratory and rare birds must be quantified, using the best European-wide evidence available, before the environmental impact of the proposed development can be properly and fully appreciated. Moreover, the Gordonbush wind farm proposal should not approved unless the risk to such bird life can be shown to be acceptable.

5. In similar vein, it is also my understanding that the area is recognised as one of the remaining "wild areas" within Scotland. I therefore submit that an area identified as being worthy of special environmental consideration should not have its unique and precious attributes diminished by the development of an energy source, the motivation for which is to protect that very environment. Robbing Scotland of one of the few remaining areas, which are unspoilt by development or pollution, cannot to my mind be justified unless a case of "over-riding public interest" has been established. And this would be seem to be difficult to do, given the widely held belief that Scotland does not need this additional energy source to meet its own energy needs.

Economic Considerations

6. As already stressed, Sutherland is an area of rare and rugged beauty. Its very remoteness, however, means that in providing Scotland with this almost unique environmental sanctuary, many local communities exist in the most fragile of economic circumstances. Tourism is a vital ingredient to their survival, and yet the Gordonbush proposal could put at risk a significant element of that tourism.

7. Although perhaps self-evident, it needs to be recognised that the appeal of the area to tourists lies mainly in its untarnished tranquillity. Moreover, there are many who return to the area time and again specifically to savour these environmental qualities. In so doing, these visitors in particular provide a regular and vital financial contribution to the local economy. Should this sector of the tourist trade be persuaded that the effort required of travelling to Sutherland is no longer mitigated by the environmental attraction of the area, the consequences could be dire. Many businesses and enterprises would risk collapse with potentially tragic social consequences.

8. I submit therefore that this inquiry must establish the likely economic risks inherent in this proposal before local communities are put at risk. In particular, the projected financial effects of a progressive reduction in tourism need to be clearly defined, as do the predicted cost to the Scottish Executive of having to support failing local communities through additional social benefit payments. Without these facts being given careful public consideration the approval of the Gordonbush proposal would, I submit, be irresponsible.

Bruce Richardson

Rear Admiral, CB (Retd)

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