As a tourism provider I am delighted, but not surprised, with the news that the universally popular Lonely Planet travel guide has praised Shetland as one of the top regions in the world to visit in 2011. It identifies Shetland as being “a little-known but beautiful and rewarding corner of the UK” and as the ‘‘last untamed corner of the UK”, also advising “adventurous travellers to step this way”. I hope potential “adventurous travellers” are quick off the mark, because if the Viking Energy/SSE partnership gets its way, in a very short time Shetland will no longer be “beautiful” or “untamed”.
Shetland’s tourism industry brings in £18 million a year to our economy; a figure that increases year on year. This growth within our economy will be reversed if the plans for huge Viking Energy/SSE windfarm and converter complex are implemented. Viking Energy has failed to recognise that the unique, open nature of the Shetland landscape, particularly the contrasting valleys of the Central Mainland, is a very large “wow” factor for visitors. It also fails to realise that this aspect of Shetland’s natural heritage has helped Shetland win international recognition as a UNESCO World and European Geopark.
The choice of the Central Mainland is quite simply the wrong area for such a vast industrial project due to the fragility of the environment and the difficulty of construction and operation of the four extensive windfarm areas. In addition the scale of the project and size of the turbines are entirely out of proportion to this unique landscape, a situation to be exacerbated by ripping a cable track through Weisdale and the construction of a huge converter station complex in Upper Kergord.
The scale of the windfarm within such a small and almost treeless island group will completely dominate the landscape of the whole of Shetland. The average height of the hill-tops above the valley floors across the central Mainland of Shetland is about 280ft. At a height of 476ft, the proposed turbines are almost twice the average visual height of the hills they are to be built on. There is no doubt that 127 turbines along with 104km of 10m and 6m wide access roads joining up 13 or more huge quarries spread across central Shetland will be totally out of scale with the general topography.
Viking Energy is happy to brush aside the impact of this scale of development by quoting Scottish government’s research on the impact of windfarms on Scottish tourism. This survey actually relates to mainland Scotland, so is in fact almost irrelevant in the Shetland context. If a windfarm was to be built in mainland Scotland to the same relative proportion of land area as that proposed for Shetland it would comprise over 6,800 turbines!
Visitors rarely come to Shetland for a single reason; they come to experience all that Shetland has to offer as a package – an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The Shetland Visitor Survey for Shetland Islands Council 2006 shows that: 91 per cent of all visitors to Shetland visit Central Mainland and 61 per cent visit North Mainland; 10 per cent of tourists come to Shetland for scenery and landscape; 10 per cent come for peace, quiet and remoteness; 17 pe cent come for birds/wildlife/nature/flora.
In fact 91 per cent of all visitors, and in particular the 37 per cent of tourists visiting for a positive environmental experience, will be directly adversely affected by the Viking Energy project. In Scotland, visitors that find wind turbines objectionable can easily move a relatively short distance to another area in Scotland (out of sight, out of mind) – this is not an option for visitors to Shetland.
There is no absolutely no doubt that the windfarm would change Shetland’s landscape forever.
Quite a large proportion of the windfarm is to be constructed on the Busta Estate which actually belongs to the SIC. The people of Shetland have never given the SIC or Viking Energy a mandate to change Shetland’s landscape forever, nor does SSE or any other partners in the project have such a mandate. Shetland Charitable Trust, its chairman and project officers also have no such mandate. What the SIC and the Charitable Trust do have however, is a responsibility to preserve and protect Shetland’s natural heritage and follow the wish of the majority expressed in the public consultations. This they can do by voting to withdraw the planning application before it is finally taken out of the hands of Shetlanders and laid on the desk of an unsympathetic energy minister.