A YouGov poll specifically commissioned to assess the public’s attitude to wild land and wind farms has just been published. This shows clearly that all across Britain the public favour the protection of wild land over the building of large industrial wind farms.
The conservation organisation, the John Muir Trust, who commissioned the poll, states that: “This is the first national poll to measure the level of public support for large scale wind farms in our valuable natural landscapes. It is also the first poll to gauge the potential impact on tourism in areas like the Scottish Highlands, where large scale wind projects have been built or are in the pipeline. Previous polls have sought only to measure general support for wind power. However, the Trust believes that it’s possible to support wind power while opposing the building of turbines on important areas of wild land.”
The poll also indicates that high concentrations of wind farms would pose a serious threat to tourism in Britain’s scenic areas. It found that 43 per cent of people in Britain who visit scenic areas in the UK for their natural heritage and beauty would be “less likely to visit scenic areas with a large concentration of wind farms”. The chairman of the John Muir Trust says: “This poll suggests that up to 17.5 million adults across the Britain may think twice about visiting areas where the landscape is blighted by turbines. That represents a serious long-term threat to those areas whose economic lifeblood is tourism.”
A high proportion of our tourists come to Shetland as part of their visit to Britain (or Scotland) and what affects those areas will also affect Shetland. There is no doubt that the proliferation of wind farms across scenic areas will be devastating to tourism across the whole of Britain and Shetland is a microcosm of this. The findings of this new poll are entirely consistent with analysis of the demographic of the Shetland poll commissioned by the SIC (2006) and more general VisitScotland (2012) poll that I addressed in my letter of 26th April 2012. In this I stated that “Potentially Viking Energy could lose us 43 per cent of our tourist trade.”
As it stands at the moment the Viking Energy clusters of wind farms to be spread across Central Mainland are not an economically viable proposition because they cannot generate enough electricity to warrant an interconnector cable. Despite this, Viking Energy (funded by over £6 million of Shetland Charitable Trust money) is pressing ahead with the project. From this it follows that there will have to be an extension to the Viking Project and/or building of other wind farms across the rest of Shetland. Because the Viking Project is a SIC committed project in all but name, the SIC are now in a position that they will have no option other than to recommend the approval of planning consents for a proliferation of wind farm clusters across the rest of Shetland.
In pressing ahead with the Viking project and the likely destruction of almost half of Shetland’s tourism industry the SIC/SCT are acting against the stated aims and strands agreed within the Shetland Tourism Plan 2011-2014. The opening statement of this plan states: ‘The central ambition of the tourism sector in Shetland is to grow and increase its absolute contribution to Shetland’s economy. To achieve this we can increase the overall total visitor numbers’.
The value of tourism to the Shetland economy is about equivalent to the value of the white fish industry. If some action of the SIC/SCT posed the same threat to our fishing industry as it does with the Viking Project to our tourism providers it would be totally unacceptable to that industry. Viking Energy state that they are not prepared to compensate householders for loss of property value or for noise disturbance so I can assume that they will not be compensating tourism providers for loss of income.
In Orkney where proliferation of wind farms is now a major problem a well established tourism business was up for sale this year and remains unsold. Of the two established Shetland tour businesses that were up for sale in the last year only one was bought after being advertised for two years. With the Viking threat still hanging over Shetland it comes as no surprise that no-one is committing to investment in tourism provision and the Shetland Tourism Plan is dead in the water.
The John Muir Trust findings and poll analysis can be found at http://www.jmt.org/news.asp
The Shetland Tourism Plan 2011-2014 can be found at http://www.shetland.gov.uk/